By Paul Mount

Let’s face it; killer dolls have been done to (an often grisly) death in genre cinema. Chucky, Annabelle, Robert (best forgotten) and Fats in the underrated 1978 Anthony Hopkins chiller Magic have slashed and sliced and diced for decades, creeping out audiences with their stories of cutesy (or not so cutesy in the case of Chucky) mini mannequins brought to life by some supernatural MacGuffin or other. On the face of it Megan, Blumhouse’s latest min-budget horror directed by Gerard Johnstone, would seem to have very little new to offer its particular subgenre. But despite the fact that it ploughs a very familiar furrow – there are no real surprises and nothing especially scary – Megan works because it gives the idea a modern spin. The titular ‘living doll’ is a Model 3 Generative Android, an artificial intelligence that learns, observes, adapts and eventually goes off on its own killing spree. If Terminator has taught us anything, it’s that robots and AI aren’t to be trusted, and whilst M3gan is a bit too broad to serve as  Black Mirror-style ‘cautionary’ tale, its strength lies in the fact that Megan is a machine created by humanity rather than animated by some supernatural entity or other.

Gemma (Allison Williams), a roboticist at competitive hi-tech top company Funki, takes custody of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) when the girl’s parents are killed in a car accident. Workaholic Gemma finds it hard to bond with the girl until Cady spots a failed prototype of Megan and her interest inspires Gemma to complete her work on a fully-interactive ‘doll’ that she pair-bonds with Cady.  Even as Gemma’s excited boss plans to launch this revolutionary (if hugely expensive) new toy onto the market, Cady and Megan are beginning to develop a fiercely-strong emotional attachment, and Megan is quietly self-improving and operating independently.

Despite the slightly derivative nature of its storyline, M3gan is a brisk and hugely enjoyable romp. Johnson ramps up the tension as Megan – her waxen, immovable face is unnerving enough even before the doll starts misbehaving – begins to operate outside her programming, and if her killing spree isn’t especially gory, with one or two exceptions, he manages to create some disquieting moments as Megan stalks her victims brandishing a knife and, in one sequence out in the woods, turns into a scuttling spider-doll as she chases her prey. The frantic finale goes full-on Terminator as the unstoppable doll does everything in its power to protect itself.

M3GAN is in cinemas now and hits digital on April 3rd.