CHILD’S PLAY (2019)

Pretty much every horror movie has been remade now, so when a Child’s Play remake was inevitably announced, everyone at this point just sighed and said, “Okay, whatever. We all know it’ll suck.” To make things seem even worse for this movie, the whole reason it exists is kind of scummy. Child’s Play and Chucky creator Don Mancini has been the guiding force of the franchise since its inception. He actually owns the rights to the franchise and character… except for the original film. MGM still retains the rights to the original film and decided to remake it. They offered the job to Mancini, who turned it down, so they just decided to move forward anyway. Child’s Play is one of my favorite slasher films, so I was already cynical about this remake, but the scummy tactics of MGM made me go into this new take with the lowest expectations possible. 

Child’s Play (2019) opens up in a Vietnamese sweatshop that produces the high-tech Buddi smart dolls, where a poor, abused, overworked man has finally had enough. While assembling his last doll before he commits suicide, he disables all of the safety features on it and it gets shipped out. It ends up falling into the hands of Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) and her 13-year-old son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Andy is a lonely kid with no friends, so he quickly takes to the Buddi doll, dubbed Chucky (Mark Hamill), but notices something is off. The doll is clearly defective as it picks up on behaviors it shouldn’t, like vulgar language and violent tendencies. Unsure of what to do, Andy tries to curb Chucky’s new tendencies, as Chucky is ready to hurt anybody who threatens his friendship with Andy. Even if it means killing them.

Well, it looks like going into this with low expectations was the perfect idea, because I was pleasantly surprised with this film. While this definitely a remake of the original film, it really just takes the general premise of a killer doll and completely make it its own. I wasn’t initially on board with the whole “AI gone awry” angle, as I felt it took away from the evilness and viciousness of a serial killer trapped in a doll’s body. However, my apprehensions were quickly alieved with how clever they handled the entire AI and technology concept. Chucky is a Buddi doll, a smart doll with the ability to tap into and control any high-tech Kaslan product, an Amazon-esque company who produces televisions, smart phones, and all that. It’s immediately apparently where the concept is going to go, with Chucky tapping into thermostats, televisions, drones, and much more to kill people in a variety of different ways. 

While he wasn’t a killer inside of a doll, he still retained that Chucky personality of a brutal killer with quippy one-liners. Through his interactions with Andy and his friends, Chucky picks up on phrases that result in some hilarious before-kill lines. Mark Hamill was the perfect choice for the updated voice, too. I was expecting some lame Brad Dourif impression and while he was still sorely missed, Hamill more than made this new Chucky his own. Since he’s more of a benign evil who doesn’t understand what he’s doing, his voice is a lot more innocent sounding, but that just added to the creepiness. That weird face with those lifeless eyes sure didn’t help either. It’s unsettling when a doll with no concept of right or wrong is going to stab you to death, simply because it doesn’t know any better. It actually made Chucky a more tragic character here, where there’s actually some genuine emotion between him and Andy in the climax. It’s more of a friendship that degrades, rather than Chucky just wanting to murder him. It is dumb how the doll just picks the name Chucky, though, as there’s nothing prompting it to do that. Just has to be named Chucky just because. 

Since it’s about a killer doll, the Child’s Play franchise has always had a built-in element of cheese to it. While the original is certainly more of a straight horror film compared to the rest, I don’t think it’s something you can take 100% seriously. A lot of modern updates of old films try to take the concepts more seriously, no matter how silly they may be, but director Lars Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith fully embrace the campy horror that the series is known for. This movie is just flat out fun and easily the most entertaining film in the whole series. Yes, I still prefer the original and think it’s a much better horror film, but it’s not really a whole lot of fun. While this remake is a really slow burn with some odd stop and go pacing, when it finally gets to the real carnage, I was just cackling with glee and applauding. I was so happy Grant and I were the only ones in the theater, so we could be as rowdy as possible. 

The horror and comedy hit all of the right beats, but unfortunately the dramatic elements weren’t all there. There are a bunch of different story threads and characters that aren’t sufficiently developed and it feels like the carnage comes a bit too late, but the emotional core between Karen and Andy was good enough to keep it all afloat. Plaza and Bateman have believable mother-son chemistry with each other and they’re both more than capable in their roles as the sarcastic mother and awkward teenager. I was especially surprised with Bateman, who more than carries the film and shows some great range. I can see a long career ahead of him. The rest of the actors aren’t all that great, except for the great Brian Tyree Henry, who is horribly underused. All of the characters are great together, though and it’s just an all around great cast who are all commited to the project. 

I got some real Joe Dante vibes while watching this film, especially such films like Gremlins and Small Soldiers, as well as Krampus and Chopping Mall. It’s all very cheesy and campy, but the horror elements are still taken completely seriously and are a genuine threat. Andy ends up making some friends along the way and they eventually have to team up against Chucky, which gives it that feel of a “horror movie for kids”. It’s certainly far more gory than those other films, but I can see adolescents having a ball with this, especially since the tech angle is so respectably handled. There’s a refreshing use of practical effects, with some sparing and respectable use of CGI when really needed. The gore is just terrific too, each kill being completely over the top with loads of blood and guts. It’s really not all that scary, but Klevberg creates some decent atmosphere at times and it was beautifully shot. There’s some effectively moody lighting and framing throughout, still giving it the feel of a horror film. Bear McCreary (who seems to be scoring everything these days) brought even more creepiness to it all with his eerie music.

It was that near-perfect balance of genuine horror and campy comedy that made Child’s Play (2019) such a delight. I don’t think anybody was expecting it, but out of all of the horror remakes of classics, this stands head and shoulders above them all. Not only is it a genuinely well-made horror-comedy, but it respects the spirit and tone of the original franchise, all while making it its own distinct thing. It’s pretty much what every remake should be: filmmakers taking existing elements and putting their own clever spin on it. While the intentions behind the film from an executive standpoint are still scummy and gross, Klevberg and Burton Smith genuinely took this project seriously and gave us a horror remake with an actual personality, instead of just another generic rehash. I’d be happy to play again. 

7/10

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