In a stroke of scheduling genius, the new Chucky reboot was released concurrently with Toy Story 4 over this weekend. Both films are about toys coming to life, but offer slightly different results. If you opted for the one that involves a sadistic knife wielding butcher in the form of a creepy doll, then you’d find that the new Child’s Play is a flawed, yet gleefully-twisted update on the horror icon for the age of Wi-Fi and A.I. Similar to the original, 2019’s Child’s Play is heavier on gore and black humor than effective storytelling, but longtime fans are sure to be satisfied.
The original Child’s Play was released in 1988, and was directed by Tom Holland (no, not the current Spider-Man actor). The movie featured a boy’s doll coming to life and committing murders, thanks to a voodoo curse taught to a serial killer who transferred his consciousness into the toy during a fatal showdown with police. The film was inspired by The Twilight Zone, consumerism, the short-lived “My Buddy” dolls from Hasbro and Cabbage Patch Kids, although the script was much more concerned with absurdist gags and bloody mischief than actual satire.
It wasn’t much of a horror film, but the iconic visual rendering of Chucky as well as Brad Dourif’s legendary voice work were enough to launch a decades-spanning franchise and a loyal base of dedicated fans. Child’s Play was followed by Child’s Play 2 (1990) and Child’s Play 3 (1991), then later by Bride of Chucky (1998) and Seed of Chucky (2004), and continued in recent years on Netflix with Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017). Critics haven’t been too fond of most of the sequels, but have been kinder on the most recent two produced for streaming platforms.
This year, the Good Guy is making a return to the big screen, complete with a reinterpreted vision from Polaroid director and writer Lars Klevberg and Tyler Burton Smith, as well as It and It: Chapter 2 producers Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg. The film reimagines Chucky as a high-tech doll with capabilities similar to a smart home device with the functionality of connecting to and controlling other devices, widening the scope for Chucky’s potential chaos. Boasting a brand new and more unsettling look, Chucky is back and ready for more mayhem.
Similar to the original Child’s Play, the 2019 reboot centers on a young single mother and her son, here with Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Rec as Karen, and Gabriel Bateman of 2016’s Lights Out as Andy. The two just moved into a new apartment, and to help comfort Andy as he tries to make new friends, Karen gifts him with one of the popular electronic “Buddi” dolls that was returned to the store where she works. Andy isn’t too excited at first, and the doll is a little glitchy, but the two soon begin to have all kinds of fun together as Andy explores “Chucky’s” various features.
Andy and the neighborhood kids have a blast messing around with Chucky and pulling pranks on adults and friends, but what they don’t realize is the doll’s artificial intelligence is picking more things up than they’d care to realize. As they howl with laughter at the over-the-top violence in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Chucky is behind them studying everything that is going on. Pretty soon, in attempts to please Andy, Chucky is murdering his mom’s abusive boyfriend and is strangling the unfriendly cat, and Andy has a situation on his hands.
One of the things that has always bugged me about the 1988 Child’s Play is how obviously hideous the Good Guy dolls are even before Chucky is inhabited by the soul of a madman. Even more irritating was little Andy’s unbridled excitement for the doll, which is disturbing right from the box. 2019’s Child’s Play mitigates this a bit by having Andy be much less enthused by the toy at first, as he eventually warms up to Chucky by being more interested in his connective features. It’s still a little hard to buy, however, that popular culture would adore such a repulsive product.
With the franchise delving into the topics of technology and artificial intelligence, this opens up plenty of potential for some fascinating commentary on challenges we are facing even today, but this serves as less an instructive piece of science fiction and more of a kooky gimmick. With devices like Alexa becoming more and more ubiquitous and political debate on automation becoming more prevalent, the topic is highly relevant. However, this is more of just a cartoonish exploitation of a trend, yet it’s amusing to see Chucky applied to the concept all the same.
The niftiness of the premise, though, is a bit undermined by an unrealistic depiction of technology, with Chucky seemingly able to connect to anything he pleases, harnessing everything from lawn mowers to hearing aids. Longtime fans of the franchise aren’t here so much for the realism, however, but for the comical notion of brutal acts of violence perpetrated by a ferocious doll, and they’ll get their money’s worth in this regard. Some pitch black humor involves Andy deciding what to do with a decapitated head, which is both perverse and hilarious.
Gabriel Bateman, by the way, is an effective choice of casting, who resembles something like the Freddie Highmore of his generation. Maybe we’ll see him in something more than just horror at some point. Taking the baton from Brad Dourif, Mark Hamill makes for a perfectly diabolical Chucky. Aubrey Plaza is also a suitable fit for the material, with her trademark glare and sarcasm meshing quite well with the irony of the concept. It’s 2019, and not too much has changed: Child’s Play is still a far cry from serious fare, but may still divert those with a taste for the twisted.
United Artists Releasing, Orion Pictures, KatzSmith Productions.
Directed by Lars Klevberg.
Written by Tyler Burton Smith.
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, and Mark Hamill.
Released June 21, 2019.
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