M3GAN, the latest dispatch from the Blumhouse of horror, is a demon-doll caper whose title is an acronym for “Model 3 Generative Android”. Or to put it another way, a “Barbie on steroids” that’s also amusingly hyped at one point as “the apex of 21st-century technology, wrapped up in four feet of silicon!”
It’s this vein of knowing humour that sets the movie apart from the Annabelles and Chuckys of this world. Throughout, director Gerard Johnstone (2014’s Housebound) and writer Akela Cooper (Malignant) always have a snappy line or droll music cue up their sleeves to tickle the audience. “Remember this moment,” toy mogul David (Ronny Chieng) orders his underlings after inventor Gemma (Allison Williams) unveils the angelic-looking A.I. companion she’s been working on. “It’s the moment we kicked Hasbro right in the dick!”
That the robot in question uses ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta for lullaby purposes or can play Martika’s ‘Toy Soldiers’ on the piano adds more chuckles to the mix, as does the way she precedes a bout of samurai-style slaughter with a set of slinky dance moves that were born to go TikTok viral.
If it’s frights you’re after, though, you might want to return M3GAN unopened. We know from the moment Gemma presents her latest creation to her orphaned niece Cady (Violet McGraw) that this big-eyed automaton’s a bad ’un, which somewhat scuppers Johnstone’s attempts to evoke shivers and generate tension. A nasty neighbour and a playground bully might as well come with “Next Victim” stamped on their foreheads, while even the car accident that sees off Cady’s parents seems mechanically telegraphed.
A barking dog is the nearest we get to a genuine jolt, placing this lower on the scare-o-meter than the Saws and Conjurings on which producer James Wan built his career. Scenes where Williams is attacked, meanwhile, unwittingly bring back memories of her character’s arc in Get Out - a film which made her a good deal more sinister than any sentient marionette.
M3GAN herself – a combo of animatronics, CGI and the voice/body double act of Jenna Davis and Amie Donald – is a pleasingly creepy concoction with a talent for deadpan put-downs. But if she’s to spawn another franchise, she’ll need some upgrades.