Movie Review: “Child’s Play”

   I have a lot of love for the Child’s Play series. In-fact, Child’s Play 2 is among my favorite slasher (and horror!) films ever. I loved the colorful cinematography and the light-heart approach. I loved Brad Dourif’s performance and the cartoon cat-and-mouse between Andy and Chucky. Since the glory days of the early-90s, the series created by Don Mancini has had a mixed-bag of results.

   After riding the wave of success started by Scream in the late-90s with the meta Bride of Chucky, the series nosedived out of theaters with Seed of Chucky. The film was cheesy, over-the-top, and even if I remained entertained by Chucky’s hi-jinx, I knew in my heart the series had transitioned from what I once loved to a more absurdist, so-bad-it’s-good audacity. Curse of Chucky brought the series to the home-video market and, for some, righted the ship in some respects (it’s personally my least favorite of the series, however), and Cult of Chucky brought it back to about where it was with Bride of Chucky (a fun, silly, meta film).

   There had always been rumors and speculation about a Child’s Play remake, but, if I’m perfectly honest, I think I was pretty happy with Don Mancini doing what he has been doing with Cult of Chucky and the upcoming Chucky TV series. Series creator Don Mancini felt the same way and, actually, the only reason this film was allowed to exist is because Orion Pictures’ involvement in the original film (Don Mancini is allowed to carry on with his series, but they can do their series too).

   The new Child’s Play film stars Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, and Brian Tyree Henry, with Mark Hamill doing the voice-role of Chucky, and is directed by Lars Klevberg from a screenplay written by Tyler Burton Smith. As you’d expect, the film follows a family shaken to its core when an evil doll wreaks murderous havoc! Dramatic exclamation marks aside, Chucky’s eighth feature-length film does see a lot of significant changes from how we’ve come to know him.

   The film has story elements incorporating society’s brewing paranoia about technological advancements and the consequences we fear they may usher in. Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, where we’re afraid one day our technology will be our downfall, either by going overboard or by a person manipulating the devices for nefarious reasons. In this film, we see the latter, as Chucky is a Buddi Doll (not Good Guy Doll) that has been tampered with (as opposed to a serial-killer who voodoo’d himself into a toy). The high-concept idea is the natural progression from a societal paranoia we’ve had for decades modernized, and it does bring some interesting ideas with it.

   This is a very different type of Chucky than what we’ve seen. This Chucky’s infatuation with the young-child named Andy isn’t driven by the desire to steal his body, but by a manufactured imprinting that sees him programmed to do so, with a malfunctioning interpretation, granted. It’s an interesting idea and, in all honesty, it’s a fresh approach to a worn character. In-fact, had they made some minor changes on a superficial level, this film could have been a new intellectual property with no more shared DNA with the classic Child’s Play series than the average doll-comes-to-life horror film. This film could easily have been called Buddi and it might even have had more franchise potential than a well that’s dried up besides niche appeal. This would also have helped them avoid the odd-looking Chucky doll they went with. There’s a Bear doll featured in the film that could have easily taken the reins as the main-antagonist, I believe.

   The concept isn’t dealt with perfection. It can feel heavy-handed and as if a lot of its satire has long since been played out. It’s strange, but I feel like I’ve seen a million films that have said the same thing as this film, (like Transcendence or The Circle or whatever) and each time it came off like a promising idea, and every time, it always feels more gimmicky than substantive.

   Some criticisms about the film were to do with how old Andy was in this film and people’s skepticism over whether a person that age would be interested in a Buddi Doll. Child’s Play acknowledges this, but had they not shackled themselves to the Chucky character (even maintaining the Child’s Play name), they could have made a more mature doll and explained away its appeal as a walking, talking Bluetooth Speaker or an “everything” device marketed to youth.

   The film sees some decent performances from its cast, however, I wouldn’t say any of them shined in-particular. The easiest would be to say Mark Hamill, but the character changes make it less about the character and more about the concept. He does well coming off like a Teddy Ruxpin gone bad, but it feels more like a robot than Chucky, as though another warped robot would be no different.

   The dark humor and the way the doll tries to manipulate Andy feels unique and inspired, and I think it shows they had more vision behind this film than a cash-grab of a popular franchise. The story-line itself struggles with inconsistency and a lack of structure. The dynamic between Andy and his mother would have been enough, and yet, there’s the inclusion of a Detective character and Andy’s friends. Sometimes these inclusions are enjoyable. Other times, it feels like the film’s foundations simply weren’t built to support them and it ends up making them come off as unused potential. The film culminates in safe, predictable fashion, but it remains fun, nevertheless.

   I didn’t end up with a lot to say about Child’s Play. The film’s alright. It doesn’t have any particular moments I’ll be reminiscing over in years to come and I can’t say it’s among my favorites in the series but it isn’t among the worst either. It’s about as good as a killer doll movie should be, but not as good as movies about killer dolls have been. It doesn’t wet the bed the way other horror remakes have before, however, and it does try to do something new, and so, I offer a modest recommendation.

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