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Review: Child’s Play

June 21, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Made without the involvement of original series creator Don Mancini, the 2019 version of Child’s Play serves as a completely new reimagining of the 1988 killer doll classic and the multiple sequels that it spawned. The result is a surprisingly solid and fun horror remake that is actually a lot better than anyone probably expected it to be.

Produced by Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg, the same creative team as the It remake and it’s upcoming sequel, and directed by Lars Klevberg, this version pays tribute to the original while also varying from it in several key ways and forging its own unique path.

For starters, in the original Chucky came to life when a serial killer was shot by police in a toy store and transferred his soul into an ironically named Good Guy doll. Where as in this one, Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) has been given a modern upgrade and is now an app-controlled Buddi doll made by the fictional Kaslan Technologies that has the power to control all the other “smart devices” in your home. Think Alexa in doll form, and it’s just as creepy as it sounds.

The doll that wreaks havoc is the product of a disgruntled worker at a toy factory in Taiwan, who edits the coding for one of the dolls and removes all of the safety precautions that were put in place. This doll ends up in the hands of a 13-year-old kid named Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), after it gets returned to the store where his single mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) works, and she slyly convinces one of her co-workers to let her bring it home for him as a gift. At first, Andy balks that he is too old for it, but then he starts to bond with the malfunctioning talking doll, who gives himself the name Chucky.

Chucky becomes a much needed companion to the lonely Andy, and the talking doll also gives him someone to confide in about his mom’s borderline abusive boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), who is spending increasing amounts of time staying at the apartment. But it’s not long before Chucky starts to grow overly attached to his new best friend in increasingly psychotic ways, and starts to kill anyone that he sees as getting in the way of their friendship. When people start turning up dead, this arouses the suspicion of Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry), whose mama Doreen (Carlease Burke) lives down the hall from Andy in the same apartment building.

This Chucky is actually a somewhat sympathetic character, the victim of bad programming that makes him do harm instead of good, rather than the merciless terrorizer that he was in the first film. When this Chucky first starts showing signs of being creepy, it’s in a well-meaning and almost oddly endearing way, like when he keeps staring at Andy while he’s trying to sleep and starts singing him the “Buddi” song as soon as he closes his eyes. When Chucky tries to strangle the family cat, it’s done out of a disturbing sense of loyalty, because the pet has scratched Andy and the doll wants to protect him.

For the first part of the film, Chucky is actually weirdly kind of cute, but he really starts to turn evil when he gets desensitized to violence by watching Tobe Hooper’s gory 1986 slasher film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. When he sees Andy laughing at the over the top gore in the film with his new friends Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) and Pugg (Ty Consiglio), Chucky thinks that by emulating this violence he will make Andy happy and make him want to stay his friend. Through this, the film seems to be offering a self-aware commentary on the impact that violence can have upon impressionable viewers. This could also be seen as a movie about toxic friendship, with Chucky growing overly attached to Andy, and behaving like a deranged stalker when he feels rejected.

Hamill has some pretty big shoes to film in taking over the role of Chucky from Brad Dourif, whose foul-mouthed growl is one of the most iconic elements from the original series, and he does a commendable job. Hamill’s voice work here is the perfect mix of creepy and funny, and he absolutely does justice to the role and makes it his own. Chucky is brought to life through a mix of animatronics, puppeteering and CGI, and while he has received digital touch ups, the filmmakers deserve props for utilizing practical effects, which gives the doll a more tactical feel when the human cast is interacting with him.

The film provides enough winks to the original franchise to please fans, while also doing a good job of nailing that 1980s horror-comedy tone with a dash of the kids adventure movies from that decade. The film isn’t overly scary, but it does have a good amount of creepiness to it and offers plenty of moments of tension. It’s also almost shockingly gory at times for a studio release. The modern take on the material works quite well, and in some ways the idea of smart technology getting hijacked and going rogue is even more unsettling than the original idea of possession, mainly due to the real world implications. Whether we like it or not, technology is heading in this direction, and I think it’s best to heed the warnings of a film like this.

If you go in expecting something almost completely different from the original, then this Child’s Play is actually quite a bit of fun, and probably more entertaining than it had any right to be. It’s a twisted and enjoyable movie that, at a brisk ninety minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also provides a good piece of counter programming to the latest instalment in that *other* franchise about a boy named Andy and his toys come to life that is also opening this weekend, which has been referenced mercilessly in the marketing of this film. All in all, solid performances and a disturbed but surprisingly tragic Chucky make this Child’s Play a wicked good time at the movies.

Child’s Play is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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