Not a robot so much as a hi-tech Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together with bits of Robocop and Terminator, but cheekily enjoyable just the same. This is a sci-fi chiller co-written by horror experts Akela Cooper and James Wan and directed by Gerard Johnstone. M3gan, or Model 3 Generative Android, is an eerily self-possessed blond tweenage girlbot, voiced by Jenna Davis, a state-of-the-art toy from the near future developed as a personal passion project by engineer Gemma (Allison Williams, from Get Out and HBO’s Girls) to the exasperation of her highly stressed boss David, amusingly played by Ronny Chieng.
To be properly developed, M3gan needs to “pair” with a little girl owner; she needs to sync up with an actual human, to learn her owner’s speech patterns, behavioural traits and emotional needs, so she can be properly close with her. And Gemma doesn’t have anyone to fill that post – until her nine-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw) is orphaned after a car crash and comes to live with Gemma, who must furthermore honour her late parents’ wish that she is homeschooled. This poor little girl, utterly devastated by her mom and dad’s death and without any friends her own age in a new city, is an obvious candidate to be M3gan’s new pal.
Their friendship utterly transforms Cady, who is miraculously cured of grief, while M3gan’s humanoid mannerisms astonish and excite David, who demands that his entire corporation get ready to mass-produce this incredible toy at $10,000 a pop. But then … with a terrible inevitability … M3gan becomes wilful and reluctant to obey orders, just like any kid entering teen years, or like any humanoid robot in any sci-fi film ever. M3gan is very protective of Cady. So that nasty neighbour’s dog that makes a nuisance of itself? That mean boy that bullies Cady? They have got real problems coming their way.
Derivative though M3gan undoubtedly is – with creepy fake toy TV ads that are a ripoff-homage to Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, and a freakout finale that references James Cameron’s android meisterwerk – there are some adroit satirical touches about dolls as toxic aspirational templates, dolls as parodies of intimacy and sensitivity and tech itself as sinister child-pacification, with kids given iPads the way Victorian children were given alcoholic gripe water. It is funny when M3gan sings Titanium to Cady as a lullaby, but is then capable of switching to snarling rage, and Chieng is good value. A entertainingly nasty film for the new year.
• M3gan is released on 6 January in the US and 13 January in the UK.