Child’s Play, 2019.
Directed by Lars Klevberg.
Starring Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio, David Lewis, Marlon Kazadi and Tim Matheson.
A mother gives her 13-year-old son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.
With Hollywood listlessly remaking just about every classic horror property under the sun over the last decade-or-so, it was just a matter of time before some enterprising producers got around to revisiting the Child’s Play franchise.
It’s an especially interesting case, however, as while the Child’s Play brand and especially its murderous dull Chucky are unmistakably iconic, the series hasn’t quite gone the way of the dodo as, say, the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th had prior to their new(ish) updates.
Chucky has certainly had his lows over the years, but in recent times he’s thrived in two surprisingly solid straight-to-video sequels, which rather than simply give the franchise a cosy, niche home on VOD, apparently provided enough proof to MGM that a theatrical revival might be worthwhile.
And though it’s easy, even sensible, to have low expectations for a project like this, especially as neither franchise creator Don Mancini nor Chucky’s illustrious voice actor Brad Dourif had anything to do with it, it’s ultimately a horror-comedy crafted with fair skill and intelligence.
Sensibly, the new Child’s Play isn’t just a xerox rehash of what came before, but an of-the-moment “re-imagining” in the truest sense. No longer is Chucky (Mark Hamill) possessed by a serial killer via voodoo magic, but he’s instead a “smart toy”, whose inhibitions have been deactivated by a disgruntled Vietnamese warehouse worker, and who ends up in the hands of young Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) as a present from his mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza).
Though tech-heavy horror too often proves unintentionally goofy or flatly misunderstands how technology works, this film actually feels bizarrely grounded – at least as much as killer doll movies can. From literally its very first scene, the new Child’s Play gleefully mocks the abundance of smart tech/home hub electronics in most of our homes, and how easily a determined outside party could basically ruin your life with it.
This resolves into a broader, surprisingly sharp satire about how inextricably our lives are intertwined with invasive technology, and given how easily such a commentary could come across as facile and/or tired, it’s impressive how effortlessly it feels current.
Better still, it’s a ripe subject for perverse horror and comedy, with Chucky meting out several brutal kills at the behest of “convenient” tech, using his smart capabilities – and presumably taking advantage of unsecured WiFi – to cause all manner of bloody mayhem. Despite the marketing cutting a rather self-serious tone, be clear that director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) keeps his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek at almost all times – yet he has a knack for visceral imagery, too.
Helping sell the series’ heightened absurdity is a game – and arguably, overqualified – cast. First and foremost, Mark Hamill gives a very different Chucky rendition than Brad Dourif, maintaining a more consistent mode of voice throughout, but subtly ramping up in creepiness as the film progresses. Dourif’s turn is virtually impassable, but Hamill smartly doesn’t try to imitate him and gives a worthy performance on his own merits.
It’d be easy (and predictable) for the human characters to pale compared to the feature attraction, so it’s pretty surprising just how much Child’s Play gives its cast to work with. Aubrey Plaza is an intensely bizarre casting choice for the new Karen Barclay on paper, and yet, she’s absolutely perfect as the sarcastic single mother of Andy, who is himself played with a laid-back likeability by Gabriel Bateman.
The human star of the show, however, ends up being talented rising star Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Detective Norris, a neighbour of the Barclays who also happens to be investigating Chucky’s grisly rampage. Henry enjoys an easy, relaxed chemistry with Bateman in particular, and the scenes shared between them are surprisingly potent on a dramatic level – far more effective than they ever needed to be, to be honest.
And that’s basically Child’s Play 2019 in a nutshell; hardly a horror remake for the ages or a vital re-telling of the original, but one that avoids cynical choices while most of its creative gambles pay off. The pacing could be better in places – despite the scant 90-minute run-time – and some fans may have been hoping for a few extra kills in the mix, but as a well-made meat-and-potatoes horror flick, it knows what it is and delivers accordingly.
Though few were angling for a new Child’s Play – sans-Brad Dourif, no less – this unassuming re-do offers a dementedly satirical modern take for the smart tech era.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.