Movie Review: "Child's Play" (2019)
Here’s my “hot take”. Are you ready for this little blasphemy from a kid who grew up on 80’s horror? Here goes: I’ve never been all that crazy about the Child’s Play series.
Stay with me.
I’m not shitting on it; I’m really not. Chucky is an iconic figure in horror for a reason- he’s charismatic, bloodthirsty, and has a vicious sense of humor. His look is signature, as are his voice and mannerisms. However, the overall franchise doesn’t exist on the same plane as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, or even Hellraiser. I mean, sure…it’s better than Ghoulies or I Know What You Did Last Summer, but that’s not exactly high praise. To get one more shot in on that dead horse: I AM NOT SHITTING ON CHUCKY!
The point is that I feel compelled to confess to you that, as someone who’s very middle of the road with the franchise, that I am positioned to be more receptive to “the remake no one asked for” than a lot of horror fans. For that matter, I’m generally more receptive to remakes than most folks. They don’t bother me- one of the earliest blogs on Get On My Damn Level was about that subject (see here). A good remake should take what works in the original, premise-wise, and take it in a bold and new direction. Dare to be different, ya’ know? Under that logic, the 2019 Child’s Play is so much better than I could have expected.
The basic plot remains the same: young Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman; Lights Out) and his mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza; NBC’s Parks and Recreation) have moved to the big city to start over. Andy is a little different. He has no friends and lives his life with his eyes glued to his phone. Mom brings him home a new Buddi doll (replacing the “Good Guy” brand name from the original) for an early birthday present to cheer him up. It turns out to be the perfect gift- Chucky connects to all of the nearby devices and is a model of 21st century connectivity and technological wonder. What they don’t know is that all of Chucky’s safety protocols are turned off. He’s a fully functioning piece of A.I. with no restraints or blinders. Anyone who hurts Andy or take away Chucky’s best friend ‘til the end is in for one hell of an ending themselves.
Child’s Play makes it apparent in the opening fifteen minutes or so that we’re going in a different direction. There is no serial killer possessing the body of a doll. There is no inherent evil. The source of the problem is the result of human backlash, and the ripple effect will be far reaching. The technology is the other half of the blame, and that makes this fresh take very relevant to the day and age it’s made in. There’s something refreshing about the filmmakers taking a Black Mirror flavor (admittedly not a new thing) and applying to something as old school as Chucky in terms of what people expect. It makes for a nice curve ball and lets you know that you’re getting a different animal. And still…..
…..it’s very much a remake of the original Child’s Play. The aesthetic, from the style of the apartment building where most of the action takes place to the stormy skies over the Buddi doll factory, are direct nods to the 1988 predecessor. The kills are reminiscent as well, though the gore is definitely amped up. There’s some truly fun moments of nastiness to be had in the lean and mean 90 minute runtime. The lovely facial action paired with a direct Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 homage brought a huge smile to my face. It’s a tad clichéd, but the spirit of this was very in line with movie that started it all. Many folks like to joke that Chucky isn’t scary because he’s just a doll, but they weren’t around to have experienced the surprise at not knowing what to expect in the theater and getting that nasty little fucker. It was a very effective movie in its day and ages quite well.
Of course, we must talk about the legendary Mark Hamill. When word broke that he was the voice of Chucky, the tone changed from “why the fuck are they remaking this?!” to “wait, Mark Hamill?!” I jumped (tentatively) on the excitement train. And boy oh boy, he doesn’t disappoint! He does it, however, with nuance and restraint. I didn’t see that coming. Hamill brings a humanity to that damn doll that I wouldn’t have thought possible, but it goes to show you what a truly gifted voice actor can do for a character. The work is sublime, menacing and surprisingly heartfelt. It must be seen to be believed.
The design of the doll was another potential sticking point that worked out wonderfully. The doll is malleable and impressive, switching between sweetly wholesome to satanic in the blink of an eye. It’s clearly Chucky, but there are enough differences to keep you watching with a bit of a twinkle in your eye. The eye color changes are a bit hammy but effective as hell.
Like most things, it’s not perfect. The interplay between some characters is clunky and unnatural. There are, if not plot holes, then judgment calls and scenarios that are a bit silly. I’m an apologist at heart, though, when we’re talking about cinema’s greatest genre. Child’s Play is an unequivocal home run, even if it is of the inside the park variety where it has to leg it out to reach home plate.
4.0 out of 5.0 stars