CNN

The realistic but empty gaze. The proportions almost but not quite accurate. The hollow smile.

Dolls must be nothing more than toys for children, but it must be said: they are creepy.

Forage for more than one successful horror movie franchise (hello, “Children’s Play” and “Annabelle”), the theme looks set for an update with the upcoming release of Universal Studios’ “M3GAN”, a new thriller that has recently spawned memes galore after the release of his first trailer and even started Twitter war between doll-sized terror titan Chucky and terrifying newcomer Megan.

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

“M3GAN” won’t be out in theaters until January, but the film’s quick and disturbing disquiet, as seen in the teaser, is something to behold.

“I’ve always thought of her as real,” “M3GAN” director Gerard Johnstone told CNN of his approach. “And it actually got pretty interesting. When we went into pre-production, [and] we had to bring her to life physically, trying to make her appear limitless, I always thought of 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 “Generative Android Model 3,” Williams explains in the trailer) more than just a creepy inanimate doll. And while she couldn’t speak directly about how her main character was created – two actresses share credit for bringing the character to life on screen, including one for her voice – the end result of the teaser is more than creepy, especially. when she runs on all fours like a dog or gracefully dances in a hallway before using an office tool to bloody devastation.

“There was just an excitement in making the doll itself and creating something that people had never seen before, creating something that only went further into the mysterious valley,” said Johnstone.

There is a Japanese theory that derives from Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny, which describes the psychological experience of something familiar that is slightly altered, thus creating a disturbing or even terrifying effect.

Johnstone referred to the theory as one of the main inspirations for Megan’s clear and apparent restlessness.

Chucky, one of the most creepy toys in the film, in the '88s

“When something feels real, but we all know it’s not quite real, it’s immediately creepy and disturbing,” he noted. “And the more real the doll is, the more you have that effect… I think it’s just that thing of the proportions that are almost right. I don’t quite know exactly why audiences, why humans have that reaction. We just know that they do and that it would be a good thing to explore in a movie. ”

Of the menacing character at the center of her story, Johnstone said, “Sometimes you have to look at her twice to understand that she is actually a doll. I think this was the great inspiration. We thought we would have something special if we could push it as far as possible. ”

And just like Pennywise, the Clown is so terrifying, taking something familiar and sweet like a doll and making it menacing is breeding ground for genuine fear.

“When you consider dolls as a sub-genre of horror, you have to remember that horror by definition is a genre of otherness,” said Michael Varrati, director and co-host of the Midnight Mass podcast. [creepy doll films], I think what is ignored is purity or innocence, because when we look at dolls, we tend to think of them in general as objects for children, and representative of childhood, and dolls as the companions of children. And this is a time of innocence, in which life should not be chained by the evils of the world. So to take this thing that is a symbol of innocence and to distort or pervert it in some way, here is the terror.

Patrick Wilson (left) with Annabelle inside

That subgenre is full of scary examples, from 1989’s “Puppet Master” to the fictional ventriloquist nightmare that was “Dead Silence” in 2007. Varrati also points to more esoteric but notable voices that influenced the films that followed, including “Trilogy of Terror “from 1975 and from 1986” Dolls “by director Stuart Gordon.

“We are fascinated by childish things that go wrong. He’s a centuries-old tradition with horror, “said Varrati.

As for “M3GAN,” which director Johnstone summed up as “an analogy of parenting in the iPad age,” time will tell if the actual movie is as creepy as the first internet trailer. But it looks promising, since the film seems to artfully circumvent the line between the creepy doll and the killer robot movie, the latter being another sub-genre that has earned a sacred place in science fiction and horror (some remember Skynet , the nefarious AI of the “Terminator” movie?).

“Because she is a living doll … [‘M3GAN’ is a] warning about artificial intelligence going rogue, ”Johnstone said.

Like creepy doll movies, stories that explore evil and / or self-aware technology bring to mind the problematic, fuzzy line where the inanimate object ends and where something similar to humanity begins, but somehow different. .

“It depends on how we brought Megan to life,” Johnstone said. “She doesn’t get too excited, she is almost reptilian and [it’s] her stillness I think makes her even scarier, because she doesn’t have to do much. She just has to turn her head an inch. ”

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

“Part of the fear is that these things are so very human,” Varrati said. “Where does humanity actually start? Or where does the device or app stop and something else starts? ”





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