This may sound cynical but internet memes are a huge part of the movie ecosystem now. Your film needs pre-release hype, sequels can be greenlit based on memes and if you're as gullible as Sony, memes proclaiming Morbius to be a masterpiece can convince you to fork out to put your flop back into cinemas again. Naturally if you can get TikTok users and Twitter-heads to fall in love with your film before it's even out, you're onto gold.
Blumhouse, Jason Blum's fright factory, knows this, which is why PG-13 horror M3GAN comes with a trailer loaded with meme-ready moments. This would be fine unto itself and be enough to turn a decent enough profit if it weren't for the fact that what Blum, along with horror-producing (and story credited) kingpin James Wan have produced. Akela Cooper's script is more than just a yassified Chucky rip-off – it's a satirical thriller with belly laughs and enough turn away moments to make for a modern horror classic.
Director Gerard Johnstone, previously of Kiwi horror-comedy Housebound, knows how to sell a joke or a jump and he does both in spades. Setting up the world of corporate toy making greed, we meet an advert that is only slightly more over-the-top than your usual commercials that play out on Boomerang for hours on end. Funnki, the toy company Allison Williams' Gemma works for, has made an overly expensive app-based pet-toy that poos if you feed it too much – this isn't that unbelievable, as shitting Emu toys are on the market as we speak and the must have toy of 2019 was Unicorn Poo.
Very quickly we learn that she's not entirely at home with becoming the legal guardian of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) and so adapts her latest toy – a 4 foot robot that learns called, you guessed it, M3GAN into being her friend. All of this feels very in line with the mediocre remake of Child's Play from a few years back but Cooper's script is keen for a little more substance.
The film is about how adults know they shouldn't but still let children spend too much time with screens, how toys have become replacements for human interaction and most importantly how confronting complex and difficult emotions are key to children developing into proper human beings. All of this sounds heavy, and scenes of the always reliable McGraw pouring her broken soul out to M3GAN perfectly illustrate this, but the script is sharp enough to know that lecturing audiences on letting kids grieve won't fill cinemas.
Among these emotional beats where Williams and McGraw get to really show their worth as performers we get ear-ripping, dog biting violence as well as perfectly staged gags. Ever wanted to see an Elizabeth Olsen-looking robot dance? You're in luck. Fancy hearing it sing Titanium as a lullaby? Guess what, its here.
There's an obvious set-up for a sequel and if it's to go that route this knowingly silly tone will be a welcome one. As a sort of sorbet for the more serious tones of A24's horror films, films like M3GAN provide the right amount of clap-inducing ridiculousness you would want from a film about a killer toy that, ultimately, looks like Chucky's nepo-baby.
M3GAN releases in UK cinemas on Friday 13th January 2023