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‘M3GAN,’ worth its weight in memes, is a scream

Violet McGraw and Allison Williams star in this horror movie about a doll-like killer robot

M3GAN in "M3GAN," directed by Gerard Johnstone.Universal Pictures

Universal’s marketing campaign for “M3GAN” has already made its latest horror movie character memeable. You’ve probably seen that clip of the creepy blonde robot dancing with more swagger than Beyoncé. Couple that with her pedigree — killer doll movie maven James Wan, of “Annabelle” fame, produced and co-wrote the story — and “M3GAN” has the makings of a hit.

Though she’s the plaything companion of a young girl, Cady (Violet McGraw), M3GAN is not a doll. She’s a “Model 3 Generative ANdroid, M3GAN for short,” says her designer and programmer, Gemma (Allison Williams), who’s also Cady’s aunt. Who knew the number 3 sounded like the letter “E” when used in a word? Well, if the number 7 can sound like a “V” in the movie title “Se7en,” I guess “M3GAN” gets a pass.


But I digress. M3GAN is Gemma’s pet side project, one she’s been working on at toy company Funki, in addition to its number-one seller, the Purr-Petual Pet. Director Gerard Johnstone opens “M3GAN” with a commercial for this hideous Furby knockoff, a talking, big-eyed robot pet with scary teeth whose main goal is to annoy parents. Like the real thing, the Purr-Petual Pet poops after you feed it.

We see Cady playing with one of these toys in the back seat of her parents’ car just before they’re involved in a fatal crash on a mountain road.

Now orphaned, Cady becomes Gemma’s ward. Rather than send Cady to her grandparents, who actually have parenting skills, she moves her into a very child-unfriendly house. Hell, her entire neighborhood is unsuitable for kids; in an effective jump scare, the next-door neighbor’s dog tries to eat Cady, brutally chewing up her arm.

Since Gemma is on a Purr-Petual Pet deadline under her demanding boss, David (Ronny Chieng), she barely has any time to spend with Cady. So, she decides to use M3GAN as Mary Poppins. After all, M3GAN was designed as a toy to protect kids from potential emotional distress and physical harm.


Never mind that, on M3GAN’s first test run, her head exploded, sending metal flying all over the room like ninja stars. And let’s not mention that the titanium-based M3GAN has bionic strength, adaptable AI, and the ability to surf the Internet in nanoseconds for information on activities like murder. (The kiddie toys I had in the 1970s were just as dangerous.)

Cady (Violet McGraw), M3GAN, and Gemma (Allison Williams) in "M3GAN."Geoffrey Short

Once M3GAN is paired with Cady, the real fun begins. Every little infraction sets M3GAN off, and not just little things like Gemma demanding that Cady eat her veggies. Akela Cooper’s screenplay has plenty of unlikeable people we can’t wait to see get done in by M3GAN, including the aforementioned neighbor Celia (Lori Dungey) and Brandon (Jack Cassidy), a prepubescent bully who’s so mean he gets the movie’s worst death.

Celia’s vicious canine also tries to eat M3GAN. Big mistake, puppy!

Making matters worse, M3GAN’s appearance is really creepy. (She’s played by a real actor, Amie Donald, with digital effects.) Against Gemma’s wishes, her coworkers give M3GAN a Fox News anchor’s blonde hairdo. She also sports an enormous bow, a button-down dress with a striped sweatshirt underneath, tights, and Mary-Janes. Her face wears a perpetual scowl and her voice (by Jenna Davis) drips with snark. M3GAN looks like she’d demand to speak with your manager — that is, if she weren’t already eviscerating him with one of those large office paper cutter blades.


Believe it or not, “M3GAN” has some pointed commentary about kids spending too much time looking at screens, and how busy parents allow it in exchange for keeping their kids occupied while they do other tasks. I was surprised that the film even broached the subject, and it gets even more play once Cady develops an unhealthy bond with M3GAN.

I know what you’re thinking: Odi3 H3nd3rson, you’re a sicko for giving this movie a favorable review. Guilty as charged. I laughed like a madman, even if my desire for gore was unsatiated. The filmmakers clearly intended this to be a goofy rollercoaster ride, so “M3GAN” is a success. You know better than I do if this one’s your cup of tea.



Directed by Gerard Johnstone. Written by Akela Cooper. Starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Lori Dungey, Jack Cassidy, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, and suburbs. 102 minutes. PG-13 (F-words, brutal deaths, robot twerking)

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic. He can be reached at odie.henderson@globe.com.