James Wan On Fun Horror, The Dangers Of Technological Dependency, And All Things M3GAN [Exclusive Interview]

When we talk about great horror auteurs, James Wan is most certainly one of the most fascinating creatives on the list. The filmmaker has helped spawn three separate horror movie franchises ("Saw," "Insidious," "The Conjuring"), in addition to helming big-budget studio pictures like "Furious 7" and the superhero flicks "Aquaman" and the upcoming "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom." And yet, despite his massive financial success in the realm of more mainstream cinema, Wan keeps coming back to horror, and continues to write, direct, and produce some of the most inventive films in recent memory.

He directed the most talked-about horror film of 2021 with the brilliantly bonkers "Malignant," and just one month into 2023, he's about to make lightning strike twice by producing the latest Blumhouse picture, "M3GAN." I recently sat down with James Wan to discuss the intricacies of what makes "M3GAN" so scary and try to figure out why creepy dolls and puppets keep popping up throughout his filmography. Step aside Billy and Annabelle, it's time for M3GAN to take center stage.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'It really sort of walks that fine line of terror and suspense'

I've gotta ask, what was your response to seeing people just absolutely lose their minds over just the "M3GAN" teaser?

I think it speaks well for the film. I think what they're seeing from the trailer is just a sort a slice of what the actual movie is. So I'm excited. I'm just excited for them to see the actual film itself and see where kind of all the funness within the trailer comes from.

Absolutely. I went to a Halloween party this year and somebody came dressed as M3GAN.

That's incredible.

Even with just a trailer to go off, she was already in full costume, abandoning anything she had planned.

That's pretty cool. That means that somehow, so quickly it sort of tapped into the zeitgeist of things.

Because M3GAN has been so memeable and so funny, how do you think people are going to react when they actually see just how evil she can be?

Well, M3GAN is in the evil doll genre, so from the get-go, you kind of know you have that to expect. You're not going to go into this expecting a comedy — a lighthearted, family Christmas movie. That it's not. And so it's good. But that's the thing I think that is so great about the film, is that it really sort of walks that fine line of terror and suspense, right? When M3GAN gets up to no good, she really gets up to no good. But at the same time, she's also really darkly humorous. And I think that's a great balance that Gerard [Johnstone] was able to find and walk that fine line with her.

'We knew we wanted to do something a bit different'

Definitely. And I like that she is a killer doll, but she feels like the natural or technological evolution of the killer doll subgenre. Do you think we will start seeing more killer robot dolls or AI moving forward?

Well, that's really it, coming to make it, the original concept of this was we are very familiar with the killer dolls that are existing right now, and they all tend to be of supernatural origin, and we knew we wanted to do something a bit different than that. Naturally, it felt like leaning into the AI aspect of it, so the technology aspect of it was the right thing to do with her. And with the world that we live in today, it just seemed very relevant. It seems very much of the time. Just with all the AI stuff that we are now seeing on social media and all that stuff, it's pretty crazy to think that's the direction that our world is headed into. And the idea of an actual M3GAN doll not too far in the future could be a reality.

The thing that kept nagging in the back of my head was, as much fun as I was having, I would have these moments where it would wash over me of, "Oh, this is not outside the realm of possibility," and that's almost scarier. But ultimately, the connection that Katie has with M3GAN is just as terrifying to me as all of M3GAN's hijinks. So I'm wondering if you could speak to the horror of the dependency on AI and digital technology.

Yeah, that's a really cool thing about the film and a testament to how great Akela [Cooper]'s script is. It's not just a horror movie. Obviously, like all great horror films, it says something, it speaks about something, and it does touch on the horror of our reliance on technology and you see it constantly in the world. We're glued, we're stuck, we are addicted to our phones, to our iPads, to computer, to the internet. Right? And in this movie is a child who has lost her parents at the start of the film, and she needs emotional comfort. She needed this emotional sort of connection that she no longer has with her parents gone, and so she becomes really dependent on M3GAN. And that's M3GAN's whole purpose, is to be your best friend and she's programmed to take care of you, and it's just how far she goes to take care of the person that she's partnered with, that she's linked together with.

It all started with the Poltergeist clown

We talk so often as a culture about the toxic, codependent relationships we often have, but M3GAN is a real-life parasocial relationship, because she's not actually real, and that's terrifying. Especially when it's a child, who needs an adult to emotionally help them grow. I think you've really tapped into something, but I know that you are a fan of creepy dolls, puppets, and all of that. Where does that come from for you, that interest?

If I had to put my finger on one particular thing, I would have to say that it was probably watching "Poltergeist" at a very young impressionable age, and obviously, that creepy clown doll made a huge impression on me. But no, I'm just a fan. I love collecting collectibles. I love action figures and toys and collecting props and stuff like that. So to make a movie about props is super cool. I'm a big fan of design things and design aesthetics and stuff like that, and so the aspect of dolls really allowed me to lean into that, and really lean into the psychology of what it is that is terrifying about an inanimate object that could potentially have a life of its own. Or, worse yet, that your broken mind projects life onto that thing, and now that inanimate thing is telling you what you should be doing with your life. That, to me, is the scary part and I really find that very fascinating.

Unlocking childhood fears

I had a doll called Maribel when I was a kid, and she could interact with a VHS tape. So you put the movie on, her earrings would glow and sometimes she would talk. But of course, technology was not as good as it is now, so she would sometimes talk in the closet with nothing else on.



That's amazing.

Absolute nightmare fuel. So then watching something like M3GAN pulled this little childhood fear that I had locked away after years and years, and it really pulled something out. I'm curious if you could speak to that re-immersion of childhood fears that this movie could possibly bring out.

I think in a lot of ways, it really does tap into whatever issues we may have growing up. It's almost a great foundation to use for a horror film about a character who needs to go back to their childhood fears and see what it was that traumatized them, and this is really about that story. So instead of flashing back to when they were a kid, we're actually now just starting the movie with Katie as a kid and having to be codependent on this doll, this friend of hers that she sees [as] more than a toy.

Long live fun horror

Absolutely. So as we're wrapping up, I just wanted to commend you, because "M3GAN" is so much fun and "Malignant" was so much fun. So I'm curious: What are some of your favorite horror movies that are just straight-up fun?

Oh my goodness. I have many horror films that I think that are just fun that I love, and I'm pretty sure the horror community shares them with me. I love movies like "Chopping Mall." I love "Night of the Creeps." These, to me, are just sort of fun horror films that I would love to be able to dive into one day, or do them but with the way that I make my films. So I'm not afraid of — I don't believe in that term "elevated horror," because I think every horror is elevated, as far as you ask me. So I love the Robert Wise's "The Haunting" all the way down to whatever. To me, there's none of this [elitism]. They're all at the same level.

"M3GAN" arrives in theaters on January 6, 2023.