Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Creepy little girls? Check. Sinister AI? You betcha. A 21st century twist on Frankenstein? Yep. Classic horror and science fiction themes come together in M3GAN, horror’s latest spin on the Evil Doll trope, now streaming on Peacock. Allison Williams (Get Out) plays “smart toy” designer (and whiz artificial intelligence/robotics programmer) Gemma, struggling to produce the next big thing in interactive toy technology. She’s supposed to be working on the next generation of Furby-style robotic pet, but her own pet project is M3GAN (“Model 3 Generative Android”), a lifelike, child-sized robot doll that pairs with a single primary user and adapts to become a child’s best friend, surrogate parent, and fierce protector.
Then Gemma’s sister dies, leaving her nine-year-old daughter Cady in the distracted and overworked robotics engineer’s care. Suddenly, back-benched project M3GAN seems the answer to everything: a way to connect with her grieving niece (Violet McGraw, The Haunting of Hill House, Black Widow) and salvage her foundering career. Enter prototype robot M3GAN. Two actors share the role: child actor Amie Donald provides the physical performance of M3GAN’s body, and she’s voiced by Jenna Davis (with animatronic puppets, CGI, and other visual effects added by Weta Workshop in New Zealand, where the movie was filmed). The two together bring an eerie, off-kilter authenticity to the part: M3GAN almost seems real. Almost.
Every viewer will see where this is going, and in fact the previews gave away a lot of the horror-action sequences. But the fun is in seeing how the writers took these classic story elements, recombined them, and adapted them. M3GAN recalls everything from Bad Seed to Big, from D.A.R.Y.L. to The Six Million Dollar Man’s Fembots, to The Stepford Wives and Alita: Battle Angel, and the filmmakers clearly knew exactly what they were doing. Subtle moments in the history of toy design and robotics are cleverly tucked into the background of the story, like a callback to Maillardet’s “Juvenile Artist” automaton, or when a frustrated programmer tosses a basketball into a corner—memories of simpler times, now obsolete.
From writers Akela Cooper (Grimm, Luke Cage, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Tron: Uprising) and James Wan (Archive 81, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Swamp Thing, Annabelle), and director Gerard Johnstone in his big-budget directorial debut, M3GAN is surprisingly light on violence for an unrated edition, far less disturbing than The Boy, and lighter than Annabelle or Child’s Play. Viewers might even find themselves rooting for the robot. Amie Donald brings a skillful combination of subtly jerky movements and inhuman poise, while Jenna Davis’s HAL-like voice will make you think twice about asking Siri and Alexa for help.
Sure, we’ve seen these things before (there’s a sequence where M3GAN is a dead ringer for the Buffybot from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but that’s a large part of the fun. We all know this is going to end badly—but how and in what twisted new ways the people at Blumhouse can play in this toybox is why we watch. A sequel titled M3GAN 2.0 already is slated for release in January 2025.
M3GAN is a must-see for fans of Robots Behaving Badly, possessed toys, and not-so-little girls dissatisfied with their lot in life (like Orphan). M3GAN is now streaming on Peacock, and this doll fan can’t wait for the sequel (because what’s the fun of a doll if she doesn’t get new clothes and friends and accessories?).