2019 | rated R | starring Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Gabriel Bateman | directed by Lars Klevberg | 1 hr 30 mins |
It’s a numbers game really. The more of something we get the more likely some thing is going to break through. The more remakes we get the greater the chance a few of them will do something different to justify their existence. Last year Luca Guadagnino showed how it was done with his fresh take on Suspiria. Now the remake roulette has landed on 1988’s Child’s Play, a movie where a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer made a bid to join the ranks of 80s movie slasher craze – and in some way succeeded. I was never that high on the original Child’s Play trilogy. It was the grotesque sewed-up wisecracking face of Chucky in the bloody, tasteless, self-referential schlockfest Bride of Chucky that got my attention. The original series struck fire only recently on direct-to-video with it’s gothic reboot Curse of Chucky and wacky Cult of Chucky in 2017 showing creator Don Mancini still has a lot of gas in the tank.
So remaking the series with the existing series still kicking around seems absurd – until you actually see the film. Director Lars Klevberg and freshmen writer Tyler Burton Smith have made something very different here and concocted a new origin story from the ground up, conceiving the killer doll as a malfunctioning robot who quickly confuses violence for love. Ditching the Good Guy soul possession story entirely, the Buddi Doll is a highly sophisticated AI made by Kaslan Industries that can wirelessly control all of your home Kaslan products with voice command. A remake with some relevance to our AI-obsessed, Amazon-imprisoned times. Child’s Play in 2019 plays out like Black Mirror meets ET, a bizarre combination I couldn’t have predicted when this was announced.
The bulk of the film is devoted to the developing relationship between shy Andy (Gabriel Bateman, carrying the film fine) and Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill), a monstrously ugly toy in it’s resting state with glowing blue eyes programmed to be the devoted friend Andy can’t make himself. Robot Chucky is adorable! He just wants to be friends and observing Andy watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 makes him think that stabbing people is the best way to get his attention. As Andy deals with the wrath of his mom’s (Aubrey Plaza) cartoonishly jerky boyfriend and makes friends with a neighbor cop (Brian Tyree Henry), his mother, and a brother/sister pair of kids Pugg and Falyn in the building, Chucky grows increasingly defensive of Andy and jealous of other’s attempts to interfere with their play time. Thanks to a Vietnamese factory worker who shut off all of this Buddi dolls safety restraints and then leaped off the roof, Chucky extracts revenge on behalf of his friend with increasingly elaborate kill sequences.
The Chucky/Andy development is it’s biggest strength, it’s cute and funny. The kills are elaborate, absurd and creative in a classic slasher movie mold we rarely see anymore. The film touts being from the producers of It with an obvious influence to push this story into the mold that made It work so well. Child’s Play like It is a big boisterous, over-the-top production with beautifully colored set pieces and an epic thumping score. It also does it’s best to cram a Speilbergian/It dynamic between the neighborhood kids into the movie with Andy, Pugg and Falyn trying to trap and dispose of Chucky. It’s rushed, it’s crammed in there, but in fits and starts it’s still a fun Child’s Play inner city take on the kids-on-bikes formula. Child’s Play does well to build out the world of Andy’s apartment and it’s various residents, all predictably lined up for the slaughter. Nobody in this movie gives as fun or spot-on a performance as Fiona Dourif in Cult of Chucky.
[Mild Spoiler Warning]
All is rocking and rolling until the film gets to it’s climax, where it all goes to hell partially as designed chaos and partially because the movie is juggling a lot of good ideas, throws them all in a box and can’t decide where to settle. Set in a Black Friday-style store stampede (it’s unclear when this movie takes place, at one point Plaza’s boyfriend gets up on the roof to fix Christmas lights, but nothing else in the movie has Christmas décor), the entire third act feels rushed and choppy, cutting quickly from one assumption to the next. All at the same time the movie wants us to think a) people think Andy is actually killing these people b) that Chucky is Terminator 3 style turning a store full of toys into an army of killer dolls c) Chucky is blackmailing Andy and d) Chucky is setting up elaborate Saw traps in the warehouse. At this point I was sold on the film and any of these directions would have worked if Klevberg (whose haunted polaroid camera movie Polaroid never saw the light of day) committed to it as well as he committed to the first 2 acts, but instead he picks all of them and it all gets edited to ribbons. It’s unclear what happened here, if the film didn’t have the budget, the confidence in each story or if some Orion studio suit came in and demanded the film get cut down to 90 minutes flat and they decided the best place to cut was the finale(?). Who knows.
Neck-deep in cheesy slasher movie tropes and cliches, Child’s Play knows exactly what it is and plays into it. I was totally entertained by it and the film makes a great example of a remake that completely revamps the story for a new generation instead of cynically redoing it. It’s funny, cute, gruesome, beautifully photographed with a hint of a nostalgic vibe. Why would you want to watch a haunted Annabelle doll just sit there when you can watch a confused robot doll run around with a knife and slice off faces? Child’s Play is one of the most delightful surprises of the summer.