‘M3GAN’ combines humor and horror to create science fiction


Screenshot from Universal Pictures’ YouTube “M3GAN – official trailer”

Carol Chen

The team behind the 2022 film “M3GAN”displayed how science fiction can be the perfect movie genre to combine horror with humor. Loosely based on the co-producer James Wan’s film “Annabelle,” M3GAN is a “killer doll” with a brain powered by artificial intelligence. The movie is directed by Gerard Johnstone, whose previous work in critically acclaimed film “Housebound” demonstrated his ability to create a level balance between horror and comedy.

The movie follows Cady who is left orphaned after a fatal car accident and under her aunt Gemma’s care. As a busy roboticist at a toy company, Gemma does not have time to watch over Cady. While Gemma has previously attempted to develop an intelligent humanoid robot, Cady’s situation encouraged her to accomplish that mission.

M3GAN was created with limited abilities to supervise and emotionally support Cady. Yet as she continues to care for Cady, M3GAN eventually takes over Gemma’s responsibilities as a parental figure. This causes Cady to develop a strong emotional attachment to M3GAN. As the film goes on, M3GAN begins to operate outside the limitations she was programmed to.

Gemma grows concerned about M3GAN’s capabilities when those who had bothered Cady mysteriously died or went missing. Yet at the same time, Gemma’s boss, played by Ronny Chieng, loved M3GAN so much that they planned to release her as a toy. Gemma struggles to detach Cady from M3GAN and consequently to end the streak of recent deaths.

Allison Williams performs the role of Gemma excellently with her serious nature and workaholic attitude. Cady is played by 11-year-old Violet McGraw. Amie Donald,12, plays M3GAN and Jenna Davis,18, is the voice of M3GAN.

An animatronic puppet of M3GAN was created for dialogue and close up shots which  was controlled by a puppeteer. Radio-controlled facial expressions and automated lip-sync were used to control the puppet’s face.

Donald played the role of M3GAN in scenes that required physical movement. Working with her coaches, Donald was able to show M3GAN’s assimilation into human society with her movements going from stiff and rigid to smooth and humanlike. She also did her own stunt work, which was later on enhanced by visual effects. During filming, Donald wore a static silicone mask which was later substituted by a CGI render of the animatronic puppet.

The movie’s marketing specifically targeted a  young adult audience. The trailers for “M3GAN” used viral pop songs such as Taylor Swift’s “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” and Bella Poarch’s “Dolls.” Clips of a dancing scene in the movie went viral on TikTok, which boosted excitement among young audiences.

“M3GAN” uses cliche elements of horror movies such as jump scares and suspenseful moments that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. However, the comedic and satirical moments override the horror from being too overpowering. “M3GAN” was given a PG-13 rating, although the original cut was deemed too violent.

Critics describe “M3GAN” as “campy” and “absurd.” Camp is a style that can be described as something that is appealing due to its ironic value.

“I’ve wanted nothing more than to watch this beautiful mean-girl animatronic cheerleader kill things, wreak havoc, and terrorize Allison Williams,” said Alex AbadSantos. “There’s something devious and attractive about a killer doll hacking people to death”.

Other critics would call “M3GAN” absurd due to its comedically unreasonable dialogue. Throughout the film, characters would interact ridiculously in serious situations. M3GAN would spontaneously burst into a song or even a dance.

“There are some hints at social commentary on how modern mothers and fathers use technology to outsource parenting.” said Jason Zinoman. This matches Wan’s original intention of creating this movie to be about the dangers of relying heavily on technology. At the same time, Zinoman explained “this movie is smart enough to never take itself too seriously.”

While some viewers expected M3GAN to be just another killer doll similar to Chucky and Annabelle, the humor of “M3GAN” makes the movie unique. Overall, “M3GAN” has managed to combine horror with comedy, creating an entertaining film suitable for younger audiences.

The early success of “M3GAN” has prompted Universal Pictures to make a sequel. The sequel, M3GAN 2.0,” has been confirmed and is set to be released in January 2025. Akela Cooper will return as screenwriter along with Williams and McGraw returning as their roles of Gemma and Cady.