The ‘Barbie Cutie Reveal Doll’ topped Christmas 2022’s best selling toy list. Better watch out Barb, there’s a new doll in town – one primed for a TikTok takeover. Come Christmas ‘23, M3gan may well top every child’s list, never mind the $10k price tag. She does it all. She sings, she dances, she murders anyone who threatens the untainted bliss of her primary user. She’s also the titular star of Gerard Johnstone’s new Blumhouse horror. Not that scares are top of the agenda here. It’s spectacularly camp fluff.
M3GAN sets out its stall early on, with a satirically charged mockery of toy advertisement. The toy in question being an abhorrent next gen Furby. Feed your digital avatar and watch the physical thing excrete pellets of pretend poop. Cut to young Cady (Black Widow’s Violet McGraw). She’s been gifted one by her tech savvy aunt – Allison Williams’ Gemma – who works for the conglomerate that makes them. Mum and Dad don’t approve but they won’t be around long enough to stop what happens next. It’s an uncomfortably witty twist of events that sees Cady’s parents wiped out by a snow plough moments after wishing one would appear. Mercifully, the Furby snuffs it too.
Tired of churning out psychedelic pooping pets to a crowding market, Gemma has her roboticist eyes set on playtime revolution. This she will achieve with the Model 3 Generative Android – M3gan – a life-size doll and AI childminder, with a remarkable capacity for self-advancement. Amie Donald is the doll’s physical form, beneath an extraordinary latex mask, and Jenna Davis her silky satanic voice. Blonde, blue-eyed and coolly bewitching. Kudos to movement coaches Jed Brophy and alike Hawker for their role in choreographing Donald’s very believable stilted motion.
It’s a terrific, if tried and tested, construct and one ripe for franchising. Certainly, M3gan’s moves have already proved a viral hit on social media. Each murder lands with a satisfying gasp but it’s the preamble that finds the film at its most gleeful, whether that be M3gan bounding on all fours through a thicket of trees or pausing a slashing spree to sing Sia. None of this will leave viewers quaking in their seats but may well find them complicit in the massacre by virtue of pleasure felt.
A slow narrative somewhat excessively draws out the eventual arrival of M3gan into the film’s more familiar family dynamics. In the wake of her parents’ deaths, Cady is sent to live with Gemma and the full force of her parental ineptitude. It’s an uninspired strand to the film and Johnstone struggles with these flatter moments in Akela Cooper’s script, which has no time for the emotional reality of Cady and Gemma’s union. Williams is, at least, strong in the role and has genre form, having nailed duplicity in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Whether even she can sell M3gan’s more dubious character choices is less clear.
Even in its rompy final third, M3GAN never quite transcends diverting froth. Its routine messaging – beware artificial intelligence – says no more than has been said many times before. And yet, M3gan herself is a zinger. To enter the zeitgeist of pop culture consciousness so seamlessly is the stuff of studio dreams. To die for, even. Or kill.