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M3GAN review – robotically coded horror for the TiKToK algorithm

Allison Williams plays the inventor of a murderous AI doll in a resoundingly stupid but amusingly camp offering from Blumhouse

Say hello to your new best friend. She’s four feet tall, can reel off educational facts at a moment’s notice, and watches you while you sleep with an adoring, unblinking gaze. This is M3GAN – and she’ll do anything for you. Maybe even kill. Like the lyrics to “Titanium” that she warbles sweetly at bedtime, she’s bulletproof, nothing to lose.

In the puckish and pleasingly stupid M3GAN, the latest horror output from Blumhouse, an AI doll wreaks havoc for a Seattle family and a toy manufacturer determined to make a fortune. But where recent releases from this production company have adopted a self-serious tone that has often felt naff or contrived (see: The Black Phone), this is a knowingly silly popcorn movie, perfectly engineered to make its lead villain into an icon.

Allison Williams stars as Gemma, tech-savvy vocal fry Cool Girl who takes in her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) after a car accident leaves the former without a sister and the latter orphaned. Luckily for Cady, Aunt Gemma is a toy designer who has almost finished tinkering with a lifelike robotic doll – and Cady’s the perfect person to test her out. It comes as no surprise when this all starts to go wrong, with M3GAN – short for Model 3 Generative Android – becoming overly protective of her new bestie, determined to eliminate anyone who messes with Cady's happiness.

More meme dream than scream queen, M3GAN’s 12A certificate means that it’s pretty light on truly gnarly kills; it all works best when this diminutive Little Lady Fauntleroy is imparting pithy put-downs and throwing shade. Dressed in preppy buttons and bows and imperceptibly changing her rubbery facial expressions, every thousand-yard stare reaction shot aimed at a new nemesis proves genuinely hilarious. Throw in the way M3GAN runs like a dog and dances like a wet noodle, and you have a compellingly bizarre hero on your hands. Watch it with a big, willing crowd, and you can’t go wrong – or help but root for this tiny legend to win.

It’s worth noting that – as noted in Susan Sontag’s seminal “Notes on Camp”– “one must distinguish between naïve and deliberate camp. Pure camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be camp is usually less satisfying.” Just cast an eye over the consciously goofy guerrilla marketing (dancing M3GANs on the top of the Empire State Building), or her Gen-Z lowercase Twitter persona; the generally forced #slay gay icon status loses some of its appeal. And the problem with this sort of movie is that all the best, funniest, campiest scenes have already been used in the trailer and splashed all over social media, leaving the final product to feel like a bit of a let down.

It’s still all ridiculous fun, though, despite offering no real twist on the killer doll trope, nor offering anything particularly inventive stylistically. There’s no profundity about the dangers of technology; this is no dour Black Mirror episode intended to preach. Blumhouse have cracked a formula of producing a relatively cheap film robotically coded for the TiKToK algorithm, with the $30 million box office performance in its US opening weekend proof enough that said formula works. Switch off your brain and plug into M3GAN’s dumb, arch charms – or else.

M3GAN is released in UK cinemas on 13 January.

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