How did Jason Blum know that “M3GAN” would become a viral sensation? The answer is simple: The horror hitmaker has learned to never say no when James Wan comes calling with an idea about a scary little doll.
“I am very familiar with James’ love of creepy dolls,” Blum said with a laugh during a recent interview with IndieWire. “So when he said he had another idea for a creepy doll, I was very intrigued before we even read the script.”
Blum’s blind confidence in the project was certainly understandable. Over the past two decades, Wan has established himself as Hollywood’s top purveyor of films about murderous toys. When he wasn’t busy directing “Saw” and “Aquaman” movies, he made the ventriloquist murder saga “Dead Silence” and directed “The Conjuring,” which launched a series of spin-offs about a very creepy doll named Annabelle.
“I’m a bit of a creepy doll aficionado,” Wan told IndieWire. “I just love the idea of an inanimate object that looks like it could be alive and may actually have life within it. Whether it’s life that has been imbued by a supernatural entity or you, with your broken mind, project life into it. One is more supernatural and the other is more psychological, but I’m drawn to both aspects of the genre.”
It’s hard to think of a better example of the versatility of creepy doll movies than “M3GAN.” Wan’s latest nightmare, which he co-wrote with Akela Cooper, tells the story of a toy designer (Alison Williams) who finds herself struggling to take care of her niece after her parents die in a car accident. Desperate to connect with the orphaned girl while facing pressure at work to develop more lucrative toys, she designs an eerily lifelike robotic companion named Megan who is designed to be a 24/7 companion for the child. What could possibly go wrong?
While the film is generating as much attention for its campy self-awareness and viral dance sequences as it is for its more cerebral elements, both Wan and Blum were thrilled to make a film that contributed something to our current discourse about the limitations and potential dangers of artificial intelligence.
“It’s about something that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue right now,” Blum said. “We’re all talking about AI and what it could do. All the great things it can do, which we see in the movie, and all the horrible things it can do, which we also see in the movie.”
©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection
Those “horrible things” include plenty of murder, destruction of property, and general sass that Megan dishes out once it becomes clear to the doll that most of the outside world does not align with her instructions to act in her child’s best interests at all times. Blum and Wan say they understood that character design would be essential to ensuring that Megan maintained her charisma while doing so many evil deeds, so they took their time to design the perfect robot.
“The movie doesn’t work unless the character design is right,” Blum said. “So both of us decided from the start that we would not start spending money on the movie until we had Megan looking and feeling exactly right. So we did a lot of tests and different things before we even started prepping, to make sure we had the Megan that was in James’ strange mind.”
Wan’s lifetime of experience working with creepy dolls ended up coming in handy while he collaborated with director Gerard Johnstone on the designs. While they were briefly tempted to jump into the deep end of AI and make the most humanlike doll they possibly could, Wan reminded Johnstone that a good doll needs to have some distinctly fake elements.
“Gerard worked closely with us to find the right look,” Wan said. “He wanted to lean more into the realistic nature of it, and I would remind him that what makes doll movies scary is that they look like dolls. They have the innocent quality, and we don’t want to lose too much of that. So we did a lot of back and forth before we could find that middle ground. It helped us find that aesthetic, the final look of her, and I think that uncanny valley quality about her is what makes her really creepy.”
It’s hard to dispute that the design team nailed the assignment, as Megan ends up carrying the entire film with her chilling combination of expressiveness and smooth blankness. The end result has all the makings of a runaway January horror hit, and Blum and Wan have already started to kick around sequel ideas. “M3GAN” certainly benefitted from being released right when the world was beginning to experience the true potential of AI from projects like ChatGPT, but the two filmmakers are confident that AI will be fueling our nightmares for years to come.
“We felt like the world was shifting dramatically into a technological realm, a lot faster than I think we’re able to compute,” Wan said. “And so we knew that we wanted ‘M3GAN’ to be about that world.”
A Universal Pictures release, “M3GAN” is now playing in theaters.
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