‘M3GAN’ review: This murder doll slays in hilarious horror-comedy 


You remember the overwhelming delight that filled your heart when you set your eyes on that toy. The one that seemed perfectly just for you. Whether it was a Cabbage Patch Kid or a Furby or even a Tickle Me Elmo, it didn’t matter if your parents just didn’t understand its appeal. You were besotted by your new best friend.

Well, this is how many felt when they beheld M3GAN for the first time last October, in a teaser trailer where the American Girl Doll Gone Wild hacked, slashed, and then threw herself into an inexplicable yet intoxicating dance. She gave us goosebumps and won our hearts. But could the actual movie behind this bonkers trailer live up to the heady excitement that dance inspired, both in our souls and across LGBTQ TikTok? I’m elated to report the answer is yes. 

Hold onto your wigs, because the next queer monster has arrived, and she’s got better rhythm than the Babadook. 

What’s M3GAN about? 

Cady (Violet McGraw) and M3GAN in 'M3GAN.'

Like Teddy Ruxpin, but with murder.
Credit: Universal Pictures

The killer doll and creepy kid subgenres collide in a cheeky thriller directed by Gerard Johnstone (Housebound). After losing her parents in a tragic car crash, nine-year-old Cady (a forlorn Violet McGraw) is entrusted to the care of her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a workaholic toy engineer who is absolutely obsessed with her latest brainchild: M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android). An eerily lifelike and life-sized doll, M3GAN soon becomes a shared fixation for child and guardian. For Cady, she is a friend and protector who always has time for her and can never die — unlike her unreliable, all-too-mortal parents! For Gemma, M3GAN is a tireless babysitter and the path toward tremendous career success. That is, until she begins to suspect that M3GAN’s protocols gloss over the First Law of Isaac Asimov’s Robotics. 

Following in the footsteps of Child’s Play‘s Chucky, M3GAN is a toy that is at once cute and creepy. There’s something exhilaratingly unnerving in that penetrating gaze and the naive assumption that a plaything could do no harm. But because she looks so lifelike, this movie gets the added oomph of creepy child terror. M3GAN comes off as a robo-Rhoda, the pretty, pint-sized serial killer of 1956’s The Bad Seed, from her meticulously groomed hair to her preppy dresses and creepy smirk. She makes us wonder — especially as she begins to exert an unsettling influence on Cady — what darkness lurks behind this innocent facade?


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Johnstone embraces this uncanny valley through contrast. Tween actor/dancer Amie Donald performs M3GAN’s physicality, giving her a gracefulness that is natural but a shade too precise to feel authentically childlike. Meanwhile, though her hair and clothes make her look picture-day perfect, the doll’s hands are visibly rubbery as is her face, reminding us constantly of the abyss between her and her dysfunctional human family. Whether she’s playing games, coaching on handwashing etiquette, giving a hard stare, or singing an eerie rendition of “Titanium,” M3GAN is at once marvelous and monstrous, for she is unknowable. In the blink of an eye, she can summarize self-help books on grieving — or drop to all fours and chase down a bullying brat as if she’s a mama bear after a cub-threatening hunter. In any case, she’s a star, and who are we not to be dazzled by her?

M3GAN focuses on grown-up fears. 

The killer doll of

Credit: Universal Pictures

Though rated PG-13, the script from Akela Cooper (with a story from James Wan) is steeped in adulthood fears: being a bad parent, being trapped with a kid you didn’t want, the struggle of achieving a work-life balance, and the fear of success, which ponders what horrors dreams fulfilled might wreak.

Allison Williams (who made her mark in horror in Jordan Peele’s Get Out) solidly grounds the human drama within this scary sci-fi premise of a killer doll. With an identity defined by her ambition and work, Gemma struggles when her grief-stricken niece needs her attention and the kid’s failure to understand the difference between toys and collectibles. Her anxieties about parenthood versus selfhood are radiant, making the audience’s skin crawl in recognition. This proves a perfect setup for M3GAN to step in like a godsend, assuming the role of shoulder to cry on, bedtime storyteller, guide, and mentor. She’s a gift, and a DIY one, working millennial hustle culture pride into the mix of complicated emotions. 

There’s a dizzying excitement in this honeymoon stage, with Cady happily frolicking with her robo-buddy and Gemma embracing the return of her sense of focus, sleep, and me time. (The dream for parents!) But cracks begin to appear in this veneer: a sharp glance here, a silicone lip quiver there, a taunting response in a tense moment. And with each, we’re warned the honeymoon is ending; the horror is coming. And with each step toward disaster, we giggle in anticipation. Not because we want to see Gemma ruined, not necessarily, but perhaps we cringe in recognition of her selfishness, and so on some level we yearn to see her destroyed. (Even — or especially — if we could see ourselves following in her footsteps.) And besides, M3GAN is an enthralling slasher.

Is M3GAN the next queer horror icon?  

M3GAN, always watching

Credit: Universal Pictures

Much of the humor in M3GAN feels chaotically queer in the best way possible. The small wonder with a heart of titanium delivers shady punchlines with the cold sharpness of an ice pick. Props to Jenna Davis, whose vocal performance as M3GAN plays as if your talking Barbie is slowly growing to despise you. Paired with Donald’s robot-meets-TikTok dancer physicality, M3gan is a monster with electrifying charisma, seeming to channel the frost queen thrills of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford without the campy theatrics. 

An ultra-femme persona paired with a third-act monologue bolsters the subtext of a queer reading of the film, as M3GAN condemns Gemma as more than a bad parent but also a fickle partner. There’s an exciting lunacy to the scene, but thanks to Davis’s gravitas and Williams’s terror, there’s also a core of raw emotion that makes this confrontation not just bonkers but breathtaking. 

How scary is M3GAN?

Cady (Violet McGraw) and M3GAN in 'M3GAN.'

Credit: Universal Pictures

Satisfyingly! Don’t make the mistake that a PG-13 rating is a red flag. Sure, there’s little blood in compared to Wan’s Saw movies. But the carnage hits hard all the same because of how smartly Johnstone escalates the threat. Some violence happens offscreen, teased by a sneaky snatch that’ll cause gasps. But for the loathed foes of little Cady, the reckoning will be a spectacle of torture, albeit barely bloody. 

The kill scenes are fun, pitting a teeny terror against mystified, soon-to-be-murdered adults. But it’s the suspense leading up to them that offers such a twisted joy. Johnstone patiently builds setups, allowing us to wallow in the certainty of carnage to come. That much-ballyhooed dance is a sensational example of that. Like Michael Myers sturdily stalking his victims, M3GAN excites us in her calm but determined — albeit more flashy — approach to her doomed victims. Every step in those dress shoes sparks a wave of goosebumps. 

Is M3GAN worth the price of admission? 

Director Gerard Johnstone on the set of M3GAN.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Look, let’s be honest: This movie could have been incredibly stupid, and it probably would have still been fun as hell. But this killer toy/creepy kid flick is more than meets the eye. With a thoughtful character design connected by two terrific performances, Johnstone has made a newly minted horror icon with M3GAN. Like the slashers who’ve stalked before her, she’s got a perturbing panache that’s enhanced by its subversive girliness. Her dance scene isn’t just a throwaway moment of meme-able mayhem, it’s an element of what makes M3GAN stand out; she is a little girl’s dream toy and a parent’s worst nightmare. She is complicated, compelling, and creepy as hell! 

Beyond that, Williams moors the film with an emotional center that compels audiences to feel invested in her harried heroine’s survival. Sure, a lot of the tertiary characters are thinly sketched (a rude neighbor, a cowardly co-worker, a sniping boss). But to spend time developing them would mean time spent away from the film’s real star. Besides, they’re dominoes to be knocked down in this game — no need to get too attached there. 

In the end, M3GAN is a winner not only for presenting an exciting new slasher to the queer horror subgenre, but also for tapping into deep-seated fears that hook us even before she makes an appearance. Cooper and Johnstone took a kooky concept and crushed it, just like their fascinating fiend crushes…Well, you’ll see. 

Simply put, if you love horror movies, you owe it to yourself to see M3GAN. 

M3GAN opens in theaters Jan. 6. 

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