When the Child’s Play remake was announced, hardcore horror fans were aghast. After seeing so many beloved franchises from the 1970s and 1980s get turned into abysmal “updates,” it seemed liked the Chuckster redux was destined to give such putrid “reimaginings” as 2006’s The Wicker Man and 2008’s Prom Night a run for their money. The Internet backlash only intensified once the first teaser images of Chucky were released, and you could almost smell the collective rage of horror nerds the world over fuming via Twitter and Facebook when the film’s first official trailer dropped.
Not only did the new Chucky look like Jack Black and Maisie Williams’ love child, apparently the suits at Orion decided to tweak the core story and remove the supernatural elements undergirding the entire franchise (an attempt to appease the mysticism-averse censors in China, no doubt.) The early promotional work made it clear as day: in the new Child’s Play, there would be no Brad Dourif, no Charles Lee Ray, no Damballah, no voodoo hokum at all. So there’s no way the movie could’ve turned out awesome, right?
Well, the joke is on us, it appears. Not only does the Child’s Play remake not suck, it’s actually one of the better installments in the Chucky series. It might not reach the lofty heights of the first two Child’s Play movies, but this newfangled Child’s Play flick certainly deserves a spot in the “Unnecessary Horror Remakes That Ended Up Being way Better Than They Should’ve Been” Hall of Fame alongside Let Me In and Pet Sematary ‘19.
In the fashion of John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly, director Lars Klevberg’s Child’s Play reboot takes the general idea of its source inspiration and then steers it an entirely different tonal and atmospheric direction. Whereas the original 1988 movie played out as a murder-mystery whodunit (with a healthy amount of commentary on the far reach of child-centric consumerism), the 2019 film has more of a horror-comedy vibe — and one, that thankfully, isn’t self-referential — and a much greater emphasis on the role of ever-seeing technology in our day-to-day lives. If Chucky was a metaphor for the marketers at Mattel and General Mills in the original movie, in this one he becomes a psychotic parable for Siri and Alexa — if not the entire Apple cult of corporate personality.
I’m not giving away any major spoilers when I say that this Chucky isn’t the result of black magic, but the handiwork of a pissed off Taiwanese sweatshop worker whose idea of sticking it to his cruel supervisor is to turn off the safety control mechanism that prevents the dolls — which, in this movie, are treated more like household appliances than toys — from watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on DVD and thinking carving people’s faces off will endear it to its owners.
Indeed, this movie actually bears more of a resemblance to Don Mancini’s proto-Chucky screenplay Blood Buddy, in which the titular doll becomes something of a physical manifestation of the child’s inner rage and starts snuffing out everybody in his sphere of influence that makes fun of him and tries to hurt him.
You see, this Chucky isn’t possessed by a serial murderer, it’s got some bad circuits that screw up its learning computer functions, so instead of turning on the TV when you want it to, it tries to strangle your pets and tries to poke the eyeballs out of people who ridicule your haircut. It’s a hard concept to play 100 percent seriously, so thankfully, writer Tyler Burton Smith injects a considerable amount of humor into the script, which — amazingly — also gets you to kind of feel sorry for Chucky, who at times, comes off as more of a millennial Frankenstein’s monster than a remorseless sociopath.
The basic plot is the same as the 1988 movie. You’ve got single mom Karen — played with just the right amount of sardonic glee by Aubrey Plaza — trying to cheer up her latchkey son Andy (played by Gabriel Bateman, who turns in one of the stronger genre performances you’ll see out of a child actor this year) by giving him a slightly damaged Buddi doll for his birthday. Naturally, the fact that the toy swears automatically makes Andy one of the more popular kids at school, since all of his classmates want to borrow Chucky so they can make viral videos of it stabbing unicorn dolls while screaming “this is for Tupac!”
After meeting the rest of the cast — including Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Mike Norris, who has been retconned into an affable mama’s boy — this movie wastes no time at all hitting us with the blood and guts, with the very first kill of the movie being an absolute gusher involving at least one nasty compound fracture and the use of farm equipment that I’m pretty sure will void its warranty in a hurry. There’s an even gorier kill after that involving a whirring blade that might just be the single bloodiest scene in the entire Chucky mythos — and hoo boy, just you wait until Chucky figures out how to hack into the cloud and turn an entire fleet of new and improved Buddi dolls into his own army of android mercenaries in the movie’s grand finale … trust me, you will never look at a $29.99 assemble-it-yourself drone the same way again after watching this movie.
Of course, you can’t really talk about this new Child’s Play without talking about Mark Hamil, who turns in a great subdued performance as the voice of the Gen Z Chucky. The worst thing he could’ve done was go in there and do a lukewarm Brad Dourif impersonation, and thankfully he plays things safe and gives us a more monotone — yet nonetheless creepy — vocal performance that definitely gives the character its own distinguishing patois.
All in all, Child’s Play 2019 isn’t just surprisingly good, it’s legitimately good if not a hair or two away from being legitimately great. This is definitely a movie that will appeal to those who enjoyed the 2017 It remake or ‘80s camp classics like The Monster Squad, and in my humble opinion, it’s far more entertaining and thought-provoking than anything we’ve seen out of the “mainline” Chucky franchise in almost 30 years.
“Are we having fun now?” Chucky states numerous times throughout the movie. It might be a contrarian viewpoint, but as far as this reviewer is concerned, Child’s Play 2019 is indeed the most fun the Chucky series has been since 1990 — consider this a rare example of a relaunched horror product actually making good on its promise of being both new and improved. Child’s Play is in theatres today.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Lars Klevberg
Writer(s): Tyler Burton Smith
Stars: Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Brian Tyree Henry
Release: June 21, 2019
Studio/ Production Co: Orion Pictures/Bron Creative/United Artists Releasing
Length: 90 minutes
Sub-Genre: Evil Toys