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When the brand new killer robot movie “M3gan” opened this month, it sold $30.2 million in tickets, right behind “Avatar: The Way of Water.” That’s an enormous deal: for horror, which continues to flex its box office biceps; for Universal, which released the film and has a sequel within the works; and for Gerard Johnstone, an under-the-radar director who parlayed his big break right into a franchise.
“M3gan” can be a win for gay movies. And yes, “M3gan” is a gay movie, or more accurately a movie with a foundationally gay sensibility — the gayest non-gay horror film to make a splash since “The Babadook” became a subversive Pride mascot six years ago.
To be clear: The one thing flaming in “M3gan” is the explosive finale. The story is actually an A.I. cautionary tale: Gemma (Allison Williams), a robotics engineer, enlists her orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), to be a test-subject companion for a robot prototype named M3gan, short for Model 3 Generative Android.
At first, M3gan forges a rapport with Cady, listening to her worries and learning a TikTok-style dance together with her. But as any horror fan can inform you, a comeuppance awaits in horror movies from “Frankenstein” to “Frankenhooker” when god-wannabes futz with what it means to be human by creating life that becomes monstrous. So like a nutso mash-up of “Ex Machina” and “Annabelle,” M3gan overrides her code, activates her maker and goes on a killing spree. See? Nothing gay.
But I’m not the just one who thinks there’s something queer about “M3gan.” Articles in The Every day Beast and The Philadelphia Inquirer called M3gan a “queer icon.” The queer publication them called the film “the gay Web’s latest horror obsession.” One moviegoer tweeted: “After seeing it in a theater filled with queer folks we are able to all agree this movie is for us.”
Because the cinematographer for “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula,” a horror-themed drag competition on Shudder, and a gay man, Brent Bailey knows concerning the intersection of queerness and scariness. He thinks “M3gan” is gay, too, and it’s straight women who make it so.
“Gays, we love a girl in charge, and the three essential characters of this movie are women,” said Bailey, who saw the film in Los Angeles. “Gay men have all the time loved movies about female relationships.” He pointed to “Thelma & Louise” but in addition “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” the 1999 darkly comic beauty-pageant mockumentary, adding, “Regardless that they aren’t specifically gay, they’re about strong females. ‘M3gan’ is the very best example of that shortly.”
In a video interview from his native Latest Zealand, Johnstone said he had an inkling that queer fans would go for “M3gan.” He said L.G.B.T.Q. viewers rallied behind him for 2 previous projects, each with flawed female characters at the middle: “The Jaquie Brown Diaries,” a television comedy from 2008 a few celebrity-wannabe reporter, and “Housebound,” his 2014 horror-comedy a few young woman who battles evil forces while she’s under house arrest.
“I’ve had awesome support from gay people in my short profession,” said Johnstone, a straight married man with kids. “It’s hugely gratifying.”
He told me he was “unprepared for a way much” L.G.B.T.Q. audiences embraced M3gan, even when he couldn’t — or didn’t wish to — put his finger on why.
“As a non-gay person, I try to not make assumptions about why a gay person likes this movie,” he said.
I’ll inform you why: Because gay men are protective of girls like M3gan, the gorgeous and dependable but messy and insolent ones. (Within the horror genre, where awful is wonderful, looking good and being depraved is a métier.) We consider our M3gans to be family, and we’ll fight you for those who even have a look at them cross-eyed.
To search out M3gan’s gay roots, flip the calendar back to October, when Universal dropped the primary trailer. A gay perfect storm helped it go viral: It was National Coming Out Day and Halloween month. Gay stan Megan Thee Stallion tweeted it. And — for me this was the clincher — the trailer featured a snippet of the sinister, awkwardly leggy dance M3gan does that’s set to a remix of Taylor Swift’s “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” a song that isn’t even within the movie.
Williams told The Hollywood Reporter that the dance almost didn’t make it into the ultimate trailer, but “the forces of promoting at Universal were right to maintain it.” I’ll bet my “Like a Virgin” tour T-shirt that a gay man in Universal’s marketing department knows a lady who dances like that and said, Keep it. Trust me.
The trailer’s gayness won’t be readily apparent. My mom wouldn’t notice it. But to me it’s there, and nowhere more so than when M3gan enters a room and pointedly removes her sunglasses, as if she’s Miranda Priestly surveying her panicked minions. Here’s the thing: M3gan doesn’t need sunglasses. She’s a doll. She wears them for drama, and that, as Bailey put it, is “camp inherent.”
And have a look at what M3gan wears: an inverted-pleat shift, accessorized with an announcement pussy bow worn over a long-sleeve striped Beatnik top. She’s serving disaffected Amanda Seyfried waiting for a Rodarte show. A sartorial alternative this chic on a villain this unhinged doesn’t appear often in horror. Credit the haute modness to the costume designer Daniel Cruden but her hauteur to the screenwriter Akela Cooper, who has a way with melodrama. Her screenplay for “Malignant” is “Knots Landing” but grotesque; for “M3gan,” it’s “Small Wonder” but nasty.
To get one other perspective, I called Joe Vallese, the editor of “It Got here From the Closet,” a latest anthology of essays about queer horror. He said that what’s drawing gay eyes to M3gan is greater than good Resting Bitch Face. It’s that in horror, female characters are often either righteous final girls or twisted antagonists, but M3gan exists somewhere in the center. It’s in that duality — big sister and butcher — that many gay men see a kinship, and an aspiration.
“Gay men have historically been seen as lower than and weaker, mentally and physically, and we all know that’s not the case,” Vallese said. “It’s almost a boon to be a M3gan, to be dismissed as this little innocuous thing when essentially that confusion of sense allows her to be powerful and destructive.”
It’s interesting to check L.G.B.T.Q. viewers’ embrace of “M3gan” with their relatively lukewarm response to “Bros,” an unquestionably gay movie. “Bros” was considered a bomb, and as much as I hate to say this as a longtime gay movie fan, I get it. The marketing felt desperate, harking back to the time in 1997 that I went to “Kiss Me, Guido” on opening weekend because I felt obliged to make someone notice that gay men would spend money to see gay movies. Since then I’ve seen tons of films about hot but insecure gay characters trying to find love, but I’ve never seen a horror movie that’s gay in the way in which “M3gan” is: fashionable, knowing, cutting. Watching the “Bros” trailer made me proud. Watching the “M3gan” trailer made me wish to see it.
Why does it matter that “M3gan” is gay? Because I remember 2003, when Kelly Rowland’s character in “Freddy vs. Jason” called Freddy Krueger a gay slur and I felt like I’d been bullied on the playground as cheers filled the theater.
Horror has a shameful past with regards to queer people so, yeah, I’m going to have a good time when a “fierce bitch android lady,” as Bailey called M3gan, becomes a part of just a little girl’s chosen family.
Put aside the slaughter, and I’d want her in mine.
Audio produced by Kate Winslett.