Review: Child's Play (2019)
There is no reason a good idea should only be used once, this is my case for remakes. We’ve become so scared of this word, remake, because we closely associate it with the greedy hands of studio heads looking for a payday. The latest of the bunch is the reboot of the popular cult franchise Child’s Play (AKA The Chucky Franchise), which had fans throwing their hands in the air exclaiming ‘WHY?!” as the original franchise is still technically running, with Chucky’s creator Don Mancini at the helm. The “why” is simple, there is another story to tell, one that brings the concept of a killer children’s toy into the modern age.
Our new version of the story once again follows a young boy named Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and his mother (Aubrey Plaza) who have just moved into a new area. Andy is struggling to make friends, so his mom scores him a Buddi doll early for his birthday. The doll is the latest from Kaslan products, an Amazon-eque corporation, and much like our current day Alexa devices the Buddi doll can connect through the cloud to any and all Kaslan products.
In a Small Soldiers style turn of events, Chucky found himself the subject of sabotage. A disgruntled sweatshop worker lifts every single one of Buddi’s safety protocols as a final act of defiance before being fired. Once in possession of Andy, an emotionally struggling young boy, it doesn't take long for the doll’s artificial intelligence to run amok, resulting in buckets of blood.
Yes, this is a movie about an evil children’s toy that goes on a killing spree, and yes, that evil doll is named Chucky, but that's more or less where the connections to the original film end. Taking the main concept of the franchise, writer Tyler Burton Smith and director Lars Klevberg have successful reimagined the story for 2019, the tech age. Having the Buddi doll be a nanny cam version of Amazon’s Alexa plays wonderfully. Its ability to connect to pretty much anything in modern society makes the new Chucky a perfect piece of techno horror.
The story follows the beats you’d expect once it gets going. Chucky’s A.I. begins to learn and grow and he immediately misinterprets his surroundings resulting in excessive violence. Though this 2019 version falls more under the “techno horror” sub-genre than the classic slasher, it keeps its roots by inventing creative and fun kills for everyone throughout the film. So, while you can easily predict the story beats you'll be pleasantly surprised each time Chucky takes another soul.
Bringing in Aubrey Plaza to play Andy’s mother and Bryan Tyree Henry as the Detective proved to be wise, as both bring extra personality to characters that typically just serve the plot. I’d like to see Henry get some more beefy roles going forward, but it’s still great to see him in genre fare like this. Gabriel Bateman carries most of the movie, giving a great performance as Andy and really selling the emotional rollercoaster his character goes on.
It’s the voice of our old friend Chucky that matters most, however, and to replace Brad Dourif they brought in another legend of voice and screen, Mark Hamill. He comes in and does what he does best and gives a whole new kind of life to the demonic doll. At times painfully adorable and at others truly terrifying, he takes us through the full range of emotions with his version of Chucky. More of a confused child with immense power than a trapped serial killer, Hamill gives us a new version of the famed villain that feels right for the times.
Child's Play doesn't escape the trapping of its genre however, as outside of the main cast the movie is littered with basic archetypes who don't serve much purpose except to be another body in the morgue or to move the plot along. The first act takes its time getting started and laying out everything we need to know about our new Buddi doll, so it feels a bit slow before Chucky starts to do his thing. It also doesn't take itself too seriously, which is nothing new for the franchise, but your mileage with the jokes may vary.
Most of these issues are easily overlooked when you remember it's a studio techno horror film that does not disappoint with blood and gore through wickedly fun and original kills. The studio even made sure to score it incredibly well. For the second time this summer, Bear McCreary steps into a long running franchise to deliver a stellar score that I will continually play on repeat.
Out of all of this, what's most impressive is the film’s ability to wear its influences on its sleeve, while still being a solid modern update on the concept. They basically mashed up the original idea of Chucky with the previously Small Soldiers, the slapstick gore of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a little bit of Furby nightmares, and a whole lot of techno-age dystopia carnage. It’s playful and fun while also being mean as hell, which is exactly what this franchise should be. They were not pulling any punches, and if they continue to do so going forward I’ll buy a ticket for as many of these movies as they want to make.