A mother gives her son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.
This is not your parent’s Chucky. In fact, stop comparing the two. The new reboot of Child’s Play abandons the paranormal aspects of the original in favor of a cynical often darkly comical approach to the dangers of technology to deliver a watchable, oftentimes entertaining horror movie. There are problems for sure, but nothing on the level of the fundamentally flawed Pet Sematary from earlier this year.
With a brief commercial introduction to the Apple/Tesla/Google-esque company KASLAN, Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson) shares the wonders of his marvelous company that connects nearly every facet of human convenience so that humans can simply bark out orders and live in luxury. From self-driving cars, to home entertainment systems they offer it all including a robotic doll named Buddi, a doll designed to “imprint” on kids and become their best friend. Trouble brewing for sure.
We next meet Karen (Aubrey Plaza). A single mom working at the retail mega-store ZEDmart. She and her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) have just moved to town and share a rather spacious apartment two bedroom apartment in a nondescript area of town. With the impending arrival of Buddi 2.0, Karen gets her hands on a returned, original version of the techno-toy marvel, and decides to give it to her son as a sort of gag gift. Andy takes to it and the toy soon becomes Andy’s hangout pal. Of course, things go horribly and next thing you know the doll is defending Andy at any cost from even the slightest of threats. After the family cat nearly dies, Andy realizes he may have a problem.
Based on characters created by Don Mancini, Tyler Burton Smith, does a respectable job in updating the story of a killer toy. However, the script is not without its flaws. While I had no problem believing that a doll would become sentient because of a disgruntled factory worker in Vietnam (a hilariously dark scene by the way), I had a hard time believing that a single mother could support she and her son in a spacious two-bedroom apartment working customer service in retail. Yes, I guess this is fantasy but damn. That’s too far. Regardless of that silly note, I had fun with the idea the film was pushing with mankind being the victim of its own evil ways but I wanted more. There were moments where the film went pitch black, and others where the pic seemed to miss an opportunity. This could have easily been a pitch-black horror comedy (without the overt comedy beats) and it was on its way, but missed the mark.
Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) is a high-pitched whispery voice that didn’t make my blood run cold so much as it made me feel terribly uncomfortable. Of course Hamill kills it as a seasoned voice actor and you are in for a treat here. This is not Brad Dourif’s shrill performance but a more insidious take on the character. Not better, but different. Very different. Plaza is of course great, with more than a few moments to offer her deadpan comedic timing without overdoing it. She plays the single mom well, and is a great choice.
The film should also be praised for its respectable lack of CGI. Most of the Chucky effects were done practically, as in the original film. This lends a delightfully mechanical look to the movement of the doll that I enjoyed. Speaking of the doll design though, it never really grew on me over the course of the film. While I understand that they were going for a more believable techno-mechanical look the proportions were still rather awkward. The original Chucky wins in that round alone.
Director Lars Klevberg has to be credited for the cynical tone of the film too, but again, more. The film has a primary, colorful look to it that seems pulled straight out of a toy catalogue. This is coupled with the sinister moments of mayhem in the movie and the paring works like any good Tim Burton movie would. Props should also be given to the wonderful score whipped up by Bear McCreary, who’s tinny, carnival-like tone matches the sinister proceedings well.
Child’s Play is a darkly sinister, hilariously cynical take on the killer doll horror movie. This is apples to oranges in regards to the original and frankly isn’t comparable. While I have only a mild loyalty to the original and the mythos that it has developed over the past 30 years, I can say that I had a lot of fun seeing what new trouble Chucky could get into in this day and age. There’s plenty of gore, plenty of horror, and more than enough fun.