We know that dolls kill, but how do you get them to kill?
The horror genre loves to bring our worst nightmares to life. Whether it is killer clowns or ghosts, anything can be elevated to terrify us. While killer dolls are nothing new to the genre, with one of the biggest horror icons being the Good Guy Doll named Chucky, the new Blumhouse film, M3GAN, updates our fear of dolls by integrating every creators’ worst nightmare: artificial intelligence.
If you haven’t seen the already iconic AI doll from M3GAN, then you are missing out on something that is so terrifying that you can’t help but laugh a little at the absurdity. The horror comedy follows Gemma (Allison Williams), a roboticist at a toy company, as she tries to enlist the help of a lifelike doll programmed to be a child’s greatest companion after Gemma unexpectedly gains custody of her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw).
The AI doll, dubbed M3GAN (short for Model 3 Generative Android), sits comfortably in the uncanny valley for audiences. The team behind the film were aware of how strange and uncomfortable M3GAN's appearance was, and director Gerard Johnstone and his team treated M3GAN on screen plays with the audience's perception of the android. In the behind-the-scenes breakdown of the film from Mayhem Mendes, producers Jason Blum and James Wan talk about how M3GAN was brought to life for the screen.
How to Bring a Killer Doll to Life
Although M3GAN is presented as an android in the film, the behind-the-scenes revealed that 12-year-old actress Amie Donald acted as the character on set. She wore a plastic fitted mask and gloves while acting as the killer doll. Donald performed many of the stunts herself, with a group of puppeteers and a stunt team on set to help with some of the more inhuman movements.
Often with these killer doll movies, young actors or short actors will dress up as the doll to perform stunts that would be impossible for animatronics to do. For M3GAN, using an animatronic might have been impossible due to the film’s relatively low budget of $12 million. Animatronics require a large team of puppeteers to move the object. Plus, production can be thrown off schedule and lose hundreds upon thousands of dollars if and when the animatronic breaks down during principal photography. This is an issue that many of the films in the Chucky franchise ran into with its title character.
The young actress’s movements behind that mask allow for the doll to have more human-like movement, blending the line between real and unreal.
Johnstone pushed the unnatural existence of M3GAN a bit further by creating the android like it was a human. This means that Johnstone considered M3GAN to be a human character in each scene, taking the time to properly block actors with the android, light it as if it were a real person, and track it as the android moved through scenes.
This treatment of the M3GAN made it easier for the director to trick the audience’s mind into believing that M3GAN was real. The goal was to get the audience to suspend their disbelief enough to buy into the idea that M3GAN was something more than a doll. By using a few filming tricks to frame M3GAN like a human, the audience is able to buy into this idea quickly. It is only when M3GAN starts to move in bizarre and unnatural ways that the audience struggles to comprehend what M3GAN is.
As a fan of creatures, animatronics, and puppetry, I always enjoy watching the BTS footage to see how these creations were fully realized for the screen. The one aspect that I have taken away from all of these BTS looks is that you, as the filmmaker, have to buy into the world you are creating.
If you’re working on a low-budget film and need an inanimate object brought to life, then find a way to make something that your production can afford. Through lighting and camera angles, you can find a way to make the creature or killer doll look real in camera. The audience will believe in what they see on screen, but only if you treat these inanimate objects will you respect and care.
Let us know what you think of the killer AI doll from M3GAN in the comments below!