How great would it be to buy your child a self-aware A.I. companion that comes equipped with deep-fake empathy, weird silicone skin akin to a Thunderbirds character, eyes like surveillance cameras and hands that can either hug like a sister or grip like a vice?
Obviously, it would be entirely terrible, a fact of which this deliciously spiky comedy-horror is all too aware – even if its dopey, tech-trusting characters take a while to twig. Fusing a blend of broad satire and the kind of vague plausibility that was once a hallmark of Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fis, M3GAN rollicks along with all the slickness and shocks you’d expect from a film produced by Insidious’s James Wan. It always keeps you in on the joke – and it’s a killer joke.
The title takes its name from the prototype doll rebuilt by roboticist and toy inventor Gemma (Allison Williams) to help salve her niece Katy’s (Violet McGraw) grief after the death of her parents. In truth, the creepy doll is as much designed to get the little tyke off her case and out of her pristine toy collectibles, as she adjusts to a guardianship she’s not emotionally equipped for.
A hushed whirl of data and robotics accompanies M3GAN as settles into her new surroundings and playfully connects with her young owner. Over at Gemma’s toy corporation, meanwhile, this marketable new doll is seen as a great chance to ‘punch Hasbro in the dick’. Under pressure to hit her testing deadlines, Gemma barely notices her slowly morphing into a kind of Genius Bar Chucky.
It always keeps you in on the joke – and it’s a killer joke
The doll itself is a marvel of creature design and technical effects: a walking uncanny valley of malicious intent with a haunting line in The Exorcist-like full-body contortions and a increasingly psychopathic commitment to protecting Katy.
There’s some fairly obvious signposting in this cautionary tale about the perils of technology – will the giant robot Gemma has mothballed in her study swing into action at some point? Youbetcha – and M3GAN could be a touch more suspenseful when it finally cuts loose. But it’s far too much fun to get stuck on the details, and Williams is on Get Out form as the fast-fraying Gemma, playing it dead straight as her creation wreaks demonic havoc and drops sassy one-liners.
Because everyone here, from the man behind the camera, New Zealander Gerard Johnstone, to the cast knows that it’s the film’s new TikTok sensation that’s the star here: a walking, talking, hacking, slashing living doll. She’s a hoot – which is just as well because M4GAN, MEG5N and ME6AN are probably already in the lab.
In US theaters now and UK cinemas Fri Jan 13