Despite its mixed success as a satire of the Digital Age, Child's Play is an otherwise entertainingly bloodthirsty re-imagining of the slasher brand.
As ridiculous as the premise is for the original Child's Play - a dying, foul-mouthed serial killer transfers his soul into the body of a doll - the 1988 slasher classic mostly played things straight. It wasn't until later films that creator Don Mancini (who wrote all seven entries in the original continuity) took the series further into the realm of horror-comedy and really played up Chucky the killer toy's sense of humor. As a result, fans have been understandably wary about the setup for the Child's Play remake, and the way it hews closer to a Black Mirror-esque cautionary tale than Mancini's approach. However, they may be pleasantly surprised by the actual outcome. Despite its mixed success as a satire of the Digital Age, Child's Play is an otherwise entertainingly bloodthirsty re-imagining of the slasher brand.
In the Child's Play remake, Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) is part of a line of high-tech "Buddi" dolls produced by Kaslan Industries. When a disgruntled employee at a Kaslan factory in Vietnam disables the safety features on one of the Buddis, it starts to malfunction in mostly harmless ways (for example, its eyes briefly glow red). This particular doll eventually finds its way to Chicago, where single-mother Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) decides to give it to her 13-year old son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) as an early birthday gift. After naming itself Chucky, the toy gradually starts to form a connection with Andy and even helps him reach out to the other kids in his aparment building. Before long, though, Andy comes to realize that being Chucky's friend isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Written by Tyler Burton Smith (Quantum Break), Child's Play (2019) combines not-entirely unrealistic sci-fi elements with dark comedy - like having Andy being immediately creeped out by Chucky's design - in an effort to update the property for the 21st century, and overall give it a new lease on life. It actually works unexpectedly well, too, and allows the film to tap into concerns about how new tech can have a negative effect on people and their daily lives. For the most part, though, Child's Play avoids being overly technophobic and is mostly interested in exploring the horror of what could happen when modern or near-future technology goes wrong (especially when it's caused by some human mistake). Director Lars Klevberg previously played with the idea of evil gadgetry in his feature debut, Polaroid, but the theme feels more relevant in his second film.
Of course, this is still Child's Play, and the movie is ultimately more interested in getting to the moments where Chucky brutally slays people than preaching about kids and their iPhones these days. Downside is, the film's early attempts to explore the ways that Chucky is corrupted (being mistreated by humans, not understanding their behavior, or consuming violent media without context) ring a bit hollow once the doll starts devising elaborate ways of killing anyone who threatens his "friendship" with Andy. Rest assured, though, gorehounds will get their fix of grotesque death scenes here, many of which are filmed in splashes of bold color by Klevberg and his DP Brendan Uegama (Riverdale). But at the same time, this simply makes it harder for Child's Play to seamlessly weave its sci-fi parable, bleak humor, and B-movie slasher horror elements together.
In addition to all that, the new Chucky innately lacks the gusto of Brad Dourif's iconic take on the character in the previous Child's Play movies and Chucky sequels; fortunately, that's where Hamill comes in. The Star Wars legend is pretty famous for his terrific voice acting by now, and he infuses every one of Chucky's lines in the Child's Play remake with the perfect blend of innocence and menace, even before the toy goes off the deep, deep end. Similarly, Plaza and her costar Brian Tyree Henry (who plays Mike Norris, the detective that befriends Andy and Karen) inject some actual personality into their characters and help to elevate them beyond the typical overworked single-mom and kind cop, respectively. The film also gets a lot of its flavor from Bear McCreary's score, which draws from a "toy orchestra" to create a fittingly unsettling sound for a horror movie about a killer kid's doll.
While Mancini is currently developing a Chucky TV series for Syfy, there's no reason that his show can't coexist peacefully with the rebooted Child's Play. The latter is so different from both the 1988 version and everything Mancini's worked on since then that it could almost be its own thing (and, admittedly, some Chucky fans will reasonably wish it had been). And for the most part, it works as the shlocky - and, by the third act, pretty dang gruesome - slasher movie with a sci-fi twist that it's aiming to be. If enough horror buffs decide that they like what they see here, they may yet get their pick from two Chuckys for the forseeable future.
Child's Play is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 90 minutes long and is rated R for bloody horror violence, and language throughout.
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- Child's Play (2019) release date: Jun 21, 2019