'M3GAN', the next generation of creepy doll movies, does not play |  CNN

‘M3GAN’, the next generation of creepy doll movies, does not play | CNN


The look realistic but empty. The proportions almost but not quite exact. The empty smile.

The dolls are only meant to be children’s toys, but it has to be said: they are scary.

Fodder For More Than One Hit Horror Movie Franchise (hello, “Child’s Play” and “Annabelle”), the theme looks set for an update with the upcoming release of Universal Studios’ “M3GAN,” a new thriller that recently spawned memes galore following the release of its first trailer and even started a Twitter War between the doll-sized titan of terror Chucky and the terrifying new arrival Megan.

In 'M3GAN,' Cady (Violet McGraw, right) makes a new high-tech friend.

The film follows an engineer and programmer – played by Allison Williams of “Get Out” fame – who designs the “perfect toy” for her niece (Violet McGraw of “The Haunting of Hill House”), only to discover that the bizarrely realistic and hi-tech doll will stop at nothing to protect her new friend.

“M3GAN” won’t hit theaters until January, but the film’s quick, piercing creepiness, as seen in the teaser, is something to behold.

“I always thought of her as real,” “M3GAN” director Gerard Johnston told CNN of his approach. “And it got quite interesting. When we entered pre-production, [and] we had to physically bring her to life, trying to make her appear limitless, I always saw her as a real character.

Cady (Violet McGraw, left), M3GAN and Gemma (Allison Williams) in a scene from

Johnstone decided to make Megan (short for “Model 3 generative android,” Williams explains in the trailer) more than just a creepy inanimate doll. And while he can’t speak directly to the creation of his lead character — two actresses share credit for bringing the character to life on screen, including one for his voice — the end result in the teaser is more than unsettling, especially when she crawls like a dog or dances gracefully down a hallway before using an office tool to wreak bloody havoc.

“There was just an excitement to create the doll itself and to do something that people had never seen before, to do something that just went deeper into the strange valley,” Johnstone said.

There is a Japanese theory that originated from Sigmund Freud’s concept of strangeness, which describes the psychological experience of something familiar slightly altered, creating a disturbing, even horrifying effect.

Johnstone referenced the theory as one of the main inspirations for Megan’s clear and apparent goosebumps.

Chucky, one of the scariest toys in film, in the years 1988

“When something seems real, but we all know it’s not quite real, it’s immediately disturbing and unsettling,” he observed. “And the more real the doll, the more you have that effect…I think it’s just that the proportions are almost right. I don’t know exactly why the public, why human beings have this reaction. We just know they do, and that would be a good thing to explore in a movie.

Of the menacing figure at the center of her story, Johnstone said, “Sometimes you have to look at her twice to realize she’s actually a doll. I think that was the big inspiration. We thought we would have something special if we could just push this as far as we could.

And just as Pennywise the Clown is so terrifying, taking something as familiar and sweet as a doll and making it menacing is fertile territory for real scares.

“When you think of dolls as a subgenre of horror, you have to remember that horror, by its definition, is a genre of otherness,” said Michael Varrati, filmmaker and co-host of the Midnight podcast. Mass. “In the case of [creepy doll films], I think what’s altered is the purity or the innocence, because when you look at dolls, you tend to think of them basically as objects of children, and representative of childhood, and dolls as children’s companions. And it is a time of innocence, where life should not be hampered by the evils of the world. So to take this thing that is a symbol of innocence and twist it or pervert it in some way, that’s where the terror lies.

Patrick Wilson (left) with Annabelle in

This subgenre is replete with chilling examples, from 1989’s “Puppet Master” to the ventriloquist dummy nightmare that was 2007’s “Dead Silence.” including 1975’s “Trilogy of Terror” and director Stuart Gordon’s 1986 “Dolls.”

“We have this fascination with childish things going wrong. It’s a centuries-old tradition in horror,” Varrati said.

As for “M3GAN,” which director Johnstone summed up as “an analogy about parenting in the age of iPads,” time will tell if the actual movie is as scary as the groundbreaking first Internet trailer. But it does look promising, since the movie seems to cleverly skirt the line between the creepy doll and the killer robot movie, the latter being another subgenre that has earned hallowed ground in sci-fi and horror (Everything everyone remembers Skynet, the infamous AI from the “Terminator” movies?).

“Because it’s a living doll… [‘M3GAN’ is a] cautionary tale about AI going rogue,” Johnstone said.

Like creepy doll movies, stories that explore evil and/or self-aware technology recall the awkward, blurry line where the inanimate object ends and something resembling – but somewhat different – humanity begins. .

“It came down to how we brought Megan to life,” Johnstone said. “She doesn’t liven up too much, she’s almost reptilian, and [it’s] I think her stillness makes her even scarier, because she doesn’t have to do much. She only has to turn her head an inch.

But don’t take the director’s word for it – take Megan herself, in the chilling trailer on YouTube with 17 million views and counting.

“Part of the fear is that these things are so human,” Varrati said. “Where does humanity really begin? Or where does the device or app stop, and something else begins? »

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