Synopsis – A mother gives her 13-year-old son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.
My Take – I have never been a fan of remakes, mainly as they feel like a studio’s desperate attempt to use nostalgia to breathe life into a long dead franchise, all with a clear cash grab agenda in mind. However over the years I have softened on my stance regarding their existence simply because they are inevitable, and considering how some recent features like Suspiria (2018) and Evil Dead (2013) turned out, I guess they do deserve some space of their own.
However, the strangest thing about this reboot is that the original franchise is still ongoing, with the latest installment (Seed of Chucky) releasing just two years ago, albeit straight to DVD. Probably a major reason why series creator Don Mancini is not involved in this reboot/remake, and comes straight from the studio who hired director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) to helm and Tyler Burton Smith to write a film that would erase the original’s six sequels, retcon Chucky’s back story and swap longtime voice actor Brad Dourif for Mark Hamill as the titular killer doll.
While the Child’s Play series has admittedly always been my least favorite 80s slasher franchise (in comparison to Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street), I wasn’t exactly sure how this remake would land with me, thankfully, I’ll also be the first to admit that I was shocked by how viciously entertaining the film was in providing the much-needed update, by trading horror-film clichés for 2019-appropriate terrors.
Although deeply flawed, does what every great remake should do i.e. it finds a way to bring something new to the table, while keeping the essence of the original.
Yes, this film won’t be for every die-hard Chucky fan. But for the rest of us, there’s still the fun of watching a maniacal piece of plastic running around wreaking havoc and carving up bodies (albeit too gorily) for 90 minutes.
The story follows Andy (Gabriel Bateman), a 13-year-old partially deaf teenager, who along with his single mom, Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) is settling into their new life, but Andy is struggling to figure out just where he fits in, both socially and at home as well, especially considering how his mom enjoys having her boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis) over frequently.
Concerned with not providing the required attention to him, Karen decides to gift Andy an early birthday present in the form of a Buddi doll, manufactured by an Amazon-esque company called Kaslan, which is meant to be a pseudo pal for Andy that also happens to be able to control every electronic from the company with a go.
At first, Andy isn’t thrilled with his new pal, especially as he feels like he’s a bit too old for dolls, but once the doll imprints himself on the teen and renames himself Chucky, Andy begins to enjoy the company of his AI pal, which of course starts off innocently enough.
However unknown to them, this model of Buddi was botched during its manufacturing by factory worker in Vietnam, who ends up committing right after he manually overrides the built-in safety features, leaving it free to commit violence. Soon, however, Chucky’s evil nature begins to show and the once friendly little doll begins his vicious killing spree.
While the plot may sound relatively formulaic (which it really is), it is also frequently hilarious and well-directed by Lars Klevberg. While the 1988 version featured a doll that had been possessed by the soul of a serial killer, the 2019 film he is much more insidious, not only is the doll evil by design, but, since he’s designed to be synced to a smart phone, he has the ability to wreak havoc via technology, too. Similar to any other smart device, as a doll he offers a range of services once it’s linked to a smartphone, including calling ride shares, controlling the thermostat, or playing music, giving Chucky a whole new range of ways to create mayhem.
Chucky inflects the banalities of talking doll-hood with sufficient creepiness from the start, and there’s something perversely satisfying in watching his increasingly stringy-haired progress toward full-on serial killer as he stalks and hunts down everyone Andy hates, followed by everyone Andy loves.
In one shot, Chucky stares beatifically at a rack of steak knives as if they hold the keys to the universe, and in that moment, director Klevberg almost manages to make you think the film is something more than mindless entertainment.
Here, director Lars Klevberg shows us a possible future of AI takeover and the dangers of too much sophisticated technology. The way children today spend more time in phones rather than playing in grounds or reading books is one of the biggest tragedies of our time, he subtly shows how it could lead to a collapse of a society.
Smartphones, and technology in general, have become integral to everyday life in 2019, and most of the horrors in the film cleverly play into our dependence on technology.
One of the film’s more frightening scenes comes when Doreen (Carlease Burke), an elderly woman living in Andy and Karen’s apartment building orders a Kaslan Car, to take her to bingo. Chucky, who considers Andy his best friend, saw the old woman laughing with Andy, jokingly calling him “my new best friend.”
ince Chucky’s homicidal doll brain now thinks that Andy replaced him, he uses his technological capabilities to hack into the old woman’s ride share app, and ends up taking her on a deadly ride.
While the body count is relatively low for this franchise, the death scenes are inventive and entertainingly gruesome. Poor labor rights, abusive bosses, excessive technology and the flaws of capitalism are also highlighted in the film and effectively are the reasons we get to the horror part. On top of that, the film features plenty of genuinely funny moments, especially when Andy and his friends figure out they can teach Chucky swear words.
Unlike most, I also really liked Buddi’s redesign from Todd Masters and his team at Masters FX, as Chucky is an absolute marvel to watch throughout the film, and it fits perfectly in line with the Buddi doll’s functionality.
There are a number of other problems with the film too. In the advertisement for the Buddi doll, the film makes a big deal out of Chucky’s Alexa-like ability to connect to and control other household appliances, so you’re primed to expect some Gremlins-style mayhem, but it never happens.
In the end, the closest the film comes to doing anything interesting with that idea is a sequence involving some drones and a supermarket, so the fact that it neglects to do anything with Karen and Andy’s actual house is doubly baffling.
On a similar note, the film goes to great lengths to establish that Andy is deaf and needs a hearing aid, but again, fails to do anything interesting with that idea other than using it as a way in which Karen’s mean boyfriend can bully him.
Performance wise, Gabriel Bateman is good in the lead role, managing to be likeable, while Aubrey Plaza brings her signature deadpan humor to her role as the young mother Karen. They also get strong support from Carlease Burke and child actors particularly Ty Consiglio and Beatrice Kitsos.
Unfortunately, Brian Tyree Henry is slightly wasted as the neighborly detective who comes to Andy and Karen’s aid late on.
Nevertheless, the film’s biggest asset is Mark Hamill as the voice of the new Chucky, who brings his famous ‘Joker’ feel back here. Here, Hamill makes a real character with palpable emotions out of Chucky, even achieving a bit of poignancy for the living doll and really selling the menace when he goes full evil. On the whole, ‘Child’s Play’ is an effective satirical horror remake which along with bringing relevant messages also manages to be fun to watch.
Directed – Lars Klevberg
Rated – R
Run Time – 90 minutes