Child’s Play (2019)

More than a toy … he’s your best friend.

‘What if our toys were alive’ is a premise that’s been bouncing around for decades. One path it could take is that of 1994’s family-friendly Toy Story, where we discover that our playthings literally live to make us happy, getting satisfaction from seeing their owners grow. Another way it could go is that of 1988’s slasher Child’s Play. Brought to life by Don Mancini, Child’s Play centered on a Good Guys doll named Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) who’s possessed by a serial killer and goes on a murderous rampage. Either route has an audience as both films have gone on to spawn respective franchises; Toy Story is now up to its four entry, while Child’s Play has had about six sequels.

With original creator Mancini working on a Chucky T.V. series, it’s a bit weird to have a new remake/ reboot currently playing on the big screen — businesswise, though, it makes a lotta sense, given that nostalgia and brand recognition (in 2019 anyway) bring in the big bucks. It’s also ironic that both sentient toy films hit theatres on the same day; something that the Child’s Play advertising team has clearly taken advantage of (and had a lot of fun with).

‘Mom … that’s not a PS4.’

But here we are — 31 years after the Chuckster’s first appearance, the pint-sized killer is back, filmmakers putting a technological spin on the material (think ‘smart-toy’), ditching all the black magic hocus pocus for a more modern take. The results are somewhere in the middle — certain aspects elevate the material, while other decisions bring the whole benevolent/ evil toy retooling down.

This new film opens in a Vietnamese sweatshop where The Kaslan Corporation is manufacturing their best selling item, a Wi-Fi connected ‘Buddi’ doll that can sync to your gadgets — basically a terrifying version of Amazon Alexa. We then see a disgruntled worker tamper with one of the toys after being scolded by his supervisor, disabling all of its safety features. The employee then hurls himself off the factory roof, and the toy is packed and shipped-off internationally to be sold in stores.

Naturally, the dolls are freighted to the United States, and it’s there that we meet 13-year old Andy (Gabriel Bateman) — ironically, the same name as Woody’s owner in Toy Story — and his single mother, Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza), who’ve recently moved into a run down Illinois apartment. Concerned that her kid is struggling to make friends, Karen (who works as a Zed-Mart clerk) gets him a defective Buddi doll for his upcoming birthday in the hope of cheering him up — this, of course, winds up being the same toy that was tinkered with earlier.

… just a boy and his toy.

Introducing himself as Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill), Andy becomes ‘friends’ with his new Buddi, even though he’s hesitant to give the techno-puppet a go at first. In an effort to be ‘his friend to the end,’ the red-haired Chuck soon develops a stalker-ish obsession with Andy, his screwy programming allowing him to learn how to kill by watching movies on the telly — Tobe Hooper’s horror-comedy classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) to be precise — then slaughtering anyone (or anything) who irks Andy or causes him any sort of grief. As bodies begin to pile, detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry), a cop who lives in the same building and befriends the kid, starts an investigation into the grisly murders, which forces Chucky to up his bloody game.

Making the killer doll more than just another stabby psychopath, this 21st Century updating of Chucky surprisingly succeeds, rookie writer Tyler Burton Smith making the devilish dolly’s motivations (and backstory) much more compelling, the tech-gone-wild concept giving the whole thing a technophobic spin — coz remote control anything is scary, right? Moreover, director Lars Klevberg (whose only other feature, Polaroid (2019), is yet to be released) proves to have a good handle on the tone, with his affection for ’80s horror-comedy clearly shining through, the flick featuring bladed drones, a creepy bedtime jingle and a gleefully gruesome kill that would make Leatherface proud! There are nods to the Amblin/ Spielbergian days of old, too, chiefly 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial — Chucky’s index finger lights up when he controls smart-devices in the same way the alien’s did when broadcasting/ reading emotion. With that said, things fall apart slightly in the third act, the closing portion feeling a little choppy/ over edited — it reeks of a studio-mandated 90-minute cut.

‘So … you like mystery gifts?’

Another issue with the film is Chucky’s actual design (who’s brought to life here via a mix of CGI and animatronics). I get that moviemakers were trying to go for a ‘scarier looking’ doll, but this updated version is so outright terrifying that I doubt anybody would actually purchase the darn thing unless it was for a Halloween decoration or to frighten the bejesus out of someone. We’re also supposed to believe that this smart-toy is such a hot-ticket item that folks are physically pushing one another over to get their hands on the newly updated Buddi Version 2.0 — which is even more disturbing, appearance-wise, than the original!!! The ’88 film design worked so well because it looked like a children’s toy from the era, the Cabbage Patch doll — for the most part, anyway. It wasn’t until serial killer Charles Lee Ray used dark magic to possess the plaything that we, the audience, began to see it in a different light, the killer’s nasty expressions and rough voice contorting what would normally look more pleasant that creepy.

Performances are passable for the most part, with Gabriel Bateman, Lights Out (2016), doing a decent job as our protagonist Andy. Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West (2017), is also good as Andy’s widowed mother Karen (until her character development is abandoned), while Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), does the best he can in a hapless detective role, playing a cop who still lives at home with his mom (Carlease Burke). Telly actor David Lewis is believably nasty as Karen’s latest fling Shane, while Ty Consiglio, Wonder (2017), and newcomer Beatrice Kitsos do okay as Andy’s new pals Pugg and Falyn respectively, despite their limited screen time. As expected, Mark Hamill, who’s a pretty seasoned vocal actor and having previously voiced Chucky in an episode of Robot Chicken (2005), kills it here as the demented dummy, his sinister chops elevating the whole blood-soaked affair.

Playtime’s just getting started!

While the first Child’s Play still holds the title of being the best in the series, this modern reimagining isn’t half bad, filmmakers remembering what made these movies so iconic in the first place. Dark, deranged and relatively gory, Child’s Play ’19 definitely has its problems but should, at the very least, scratch the itch for fans of ’80s horror or the slasher genre in general. In any case, I’m open to seeing good ol’ Chuck slay again in a sequel.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Child’s Play is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia