Like a broken toy returned to its creator, 2019’s Child’s Play takes the imbecilic hocum-premise of its franchise’s goofy originals & gives it a 21st-century upgrade. Briskly-paced, scarier, feasible, & even sociologically-contemplative. 7.5/10.
Plot Synopsis: After moving to a new city, young Andy Barclay receives a special present from his mother — a seemingly innocent Buddi doll that becomes his best friend. When the doll suddenly takes on a life of its own, Andy unites with other neighborhood children to stop the sinister toy from wreaking bloody havoc.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Official CLC Review
Child’s Play. Child’s Play 2. Child’s Play 3. Bridge of Chucky. Seed of Chucky. Curse of Chucky. Cult of Chucky. It’s no secret that I absolutely despise the Chucky franchise. A serial killer transporting his soul to the body of a doll using voodoo – yes, voodoo – it’s got to be the most inane, ridiculous, toddler-minded premise in horror history, only rivaling Leprechaun who at least delivers some humour in pogo-sticked purposeful-absurdity. Coming fresh off the masterful King-product 2017 IT, I was intrigued to see if its same producers could apply the deft macabric infusion they comboed to wiped the stain of the ’90’s Tim Curry version off to a new franchise, this time to do the unthinkable: make a good Chucky movie. My suspicion was correct: Like a broken, unwanted toy returned to its (offended) maker, 2019’s Child’s Play takes the imbecilic hocum-premise of its franchise’s goofy originals & gives it a 21st-century tech-AI super-upgrade for a briskly-paced, scarier, tangible, & even meta-analytic sociological genre piece that might’ve just – unbelievably – converted me from one of the serie’s biggest critics, to a fan.
The fast-forward. What’s easily the biggest difference in what makes 2019’s Child’s Play work is the modern backdrop brilliantly primed for sociological/psychological meta-analysis. Choosing a bleak 21st-century landscape wherein the world’s so obsessed with technology and smart-phones they barely look up (sound familiar?) while rewriting your titular titan as a a smart-home children’s (AI) toy instead of magic-hocum serial killer is absolutely *brilliant.* Not only does it make the premise actually feasible in AI-gone-wrong realism while playing on our fears of man vs. machine in classically-Terminator reminiscence, it makes way for intriguing sociological contemplation and analysis of how diseased current society is too. We spew profanities at the simplest of inconveniences, play masochistic video games for pleasure, scare people for pranks, violently stab things for viral videos, and laugh at the most gruesome/bloody pain of unsuspecting victims in horror movies for fun. Turning Chucky into a benevolent, innocent vesicle turned dark by seeing all the vile things we as a society do is incredibly-clever making for one of the most substantive (ESPECIALLY in its own franchise but even in slasher genre history) scary movies on the market today, spinning the narrative back on us making us ask ourselves: if it’s learning from us, who’s the real monster here?
The Chucky redesign. Playing off this phenomenal tech-background and revamped Buddi-backstory is all the immense opportunities it opens up for a WAY-better (and scarier) adversary. This Chucky stalks quietly, scampering around at super-speed with a knife or better yet and even more sadistically – using the technology/smart-home devices you thought were going to make your life easier to.. end it. Opening up Chucky’s powers to being able to manipulate home automation systems and anything on the Kaslan network like an Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa gone-killer is wildly entertaining while way less goofy and unrealistic as a doll infused with human life somehow able to take down every human 3-4x his size without them all just teaming up and stomping the little bugger, for something that could in fact happen if an AI-control lost its safety/violence suppression codes as written. Chucky’s kills are nicely-laid out for maximum sadism too in say the lawnmower one, cutting open the person who was going to cut him open for parts, and that end drone/Bear Buddi-themed chaos, with the Uber kill bludgeoningly-dark in who had to identify the victim. All this brutalistic, carefully-conniving scary fun and plain scare is nothing though compared to what really sets 2019’s Child’s Play apart from its competition: the character development and emotionally-resonant friendship core that is a showpiece of screenwriting.
The character development and friendship arc. What skyrockets this Chucky-fest eons past its franchise-kin made to look like rusted Toyotas compared to a Ferrari is the character work that was no doubt the doing/craftsmanship of IT producers Katzenberg and Graham-Smith. The scene is set beautifully in a well-scripted small apartment-set family cast set alive by a *show-stealing* Gabriel Bateman performance as the misfit teen who gets the Christmas present of a lifetime: Andy Barclay. Legendary voice actor Mark Hamill’s take on Chucky voice-wise is fantastic too, amidst fine surrounding kid and adult characters (not the best-acted spare Brian Tyree Henry of Atlanta fame side-splitting as the comic relief mama’s boy turned badass cop) background to the star of the show: the friendship arc. The character dynamic between Andy and Chucky makes the film feel almost.. elegant and even parental with a nice twinge of emotional resonance/sentimentality that was *wholly* unexpected in a film like this as a refreshing amuse-bouché and display of skill by top-notch screenwriters. I’ve said this time and time again: best friends make the best villains, and this film is another example why in how Chucky plays our sympathy simply trying to please his best friend and make him happy carrying out what he thought was benevolence by all social and societal clues – only to be scorned and decide to get bent on a ‘if not me then nobody’ tear getting back at him in twisted, personal ways only a once-friend could know for a bloody good time better-scripted than the vast majority of modern bright-burning slashers.
Flaws include a shortened time, mixed Chucky-face, and admittedly-awful secondary acting. At only a mere hour and a half with end credits (I respect films overextending or setting length parameters just because when classics have shown countless times that 1-1.5 hours is plenty of time for a quality film and story), this film does feel a bit short for once like it could’ve used another 10 or so minutes to flesh out some side characters. Aubrey Plaza’s mother role has almost no development or past exposition with us not even knowing what happened to Andy’s previous father as a sizable omission from the narrative setting in motion much of the plot in her current Andy-hated boyfriend being Chucky’s first human victim. The redesign of Chucky is mixed too – I appreciate the muted colors and better hair plus overall high-tech look with red-glowing eyes in attack mode, but his face is still weird and animatronically-rugged with lips far too big and a certain off-quality. Finally, the acting outside Bateman, Hamill, and Henry is admittedly awful – exemplified in hard-to-watch splendor by the opening Vietnamese sweatshop scene wherein the boss actor can’t even deliver two serious lines without a grin like he was picked up off the street and is just glad to be in a movie in the first place.
Overall, 2019’s Child’s Play and brilliant IT-producers Katzenberg & Graham-Smith have done the unconscionable: made a good Chucky film potentially even turning me – one of the franchise’s biggest despisers as a previously-imbecilic hocum-magic premise of goofy ’90’s splatter-fests – into a fan (of what the franchise could be). Like a broken, unwanted toy returned to its offended maker, 2019’s Child’s Play takes the imbecilic hocum-premise of its franchise’s goofy originals & gives it a 21st-century AI tech super-upgrade in tricks and style for a briskly-paced, scarier, feasible, & even meta-analytic sociological genre piece doubling as a bloody-good time at the movies.
Official CLC Score: 7.5/10