Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Chucky, a children’s doll inhabited by the spirit of a serial killer, became an unlikely recurring villain during the end of the late 80s/early 90s slasher boom. Despite (or maybe because of) his inherent ridiculousness, he starred in seven movies, getting increasingly more campy as the series went on. Now that all of those iconic horror characters are being rebooted, it was only a matter of time before he was revisited. The new Child’s Play retains the concept, but is otherwise quite different from the original. Besides being way bloodier, it also uses upgrades in technology over the last 31 years (both in filmmaking and in its plot) to bring its killer into the present day. I did not particularly care for the 1988 Child’s Play. A few of the changes worked better for me. While I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the logistics of a killer doll, this take on the material is fairly entertaining.
The plot outline is the same: Andy’s mom gets him a doll for his birthday. Soon, people around them are brutally murdered and Andy points his finger at the innocent looking doll. The biggest switch is there is no serial killer in this version. Chucky is a “smart doll” whose safety precautions were turned off by a disgruntled employee at the factory where the toys are made. Think an Amazon Alexa that wants to be your friend. It can control all of the compatible technology in your house. His murder spree comes from his desire to protect Andy. A lot of horror can be mined from the potential perils of putting too much faith in our computerized devices. Child’s Play comments on that stuff a little bit. Though it mainly uses it as a hook for a lot of gore.
Horror in 2019 involves not just elaborate ways to kill off a collection of characters, but also the need to show it as graphically as possible. An interesting twist here is its Chucky is not naturally sadistic; it is learned behavior (he sees Andy watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and gets some misguided ideas about what would make him happy). It is a clever addition that plays into the overall theme of technology run amok. These devices know everything about us and could do a lot of harm if they malfunctioned. The movie bounces back and forth between cultural critique and genre tropes, eventually succumbing to more of the latter. I had friends who were freaked out by seeing the original Child’s Play when we were kids. I have to think that would be nothing in comparison to little kids who see what Chucky does with a lawnmower in the 2019 version.
Chucky is voiced by Mark Hamill, who has made a nice career for himself as a voice actor in between appearances as Luke Skywalker. He brings some welcome layers to the character. He really does want to be a friend to his owner. When his violently possessive side comes out, you can still see hints of the lovable toy underneath. Much like Woody in this week’s Toy Story 4, he does not know who he is without his child. That is more depth than expected from this story and a lot of it is due to Hamill’s work. There are also enjoyable performances from Aubrey Plaza, funny and caring as Andy’s mom, and Brian Tyree Henry as the detective whose mom lives down the hall from them. They both supply genuine wit and good comic timing which temporarily grounds the absurdity of the terror.
Child’s Play (84 minutes, not including the end credits) is the rare remake that finds a different way to approach its material. In fairness, it enters through a topic that did not exist three decades ago. In addition to technology, it satirizes consumerism stronger than the original did. The filmmakers did not make the movie again so much as apply its concept (and famous villain) to a new story. If you are going to remake something, at least find a fresh way to look at it. They did and the result is a pleasant little surprise.
3¼ out of 5
Gabriel Bateman as Andy Barclay
Aubrey Plaza as Karen Barclay
Mark Hamill as voice of Chucky
Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Mike Norris
Beatrice Kitsos as Falyn
Ty Consiglio as Pugg
Marlon Kazadi as Omar
David Lewis as Shane
Directed by Lars Klevberg
Screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith