Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Mark Hamill (voice), Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, David Lewis
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The initial reaction of the kid characters to Chucky is genuinely funny, a couple of the kill scenes are extremely well-staged and there’s a decent amount of gore and stoner comedy to amuse anyone looking for some amiable trash.
The original Child’s Play first lurched onto screens in 1988, introducing the world to a Brad Dourif-voiced killer doll, Chucky, and a surprisingly solid horror franchise. Six sequels followed, of varying degrees of quality (the best arguably being 1990’s Child’s Play 2 and 1998’s Bride of Chucky) and creator Don Mancini is currently working on a TV series, Chucky, due sometime next year. It’s something of a surprise, then, that while the original creators bring the Chuckster to the small screen, a remake of the original film is hitting cinemas. All ethical considerations aside, it’s a very 2019 thing to happen. So, with that backstory established, is the new Child’s Play any chop? Or does the curse of extremely ordinary horror remakes – including but not limited to A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Carrie (2013) and Poltergeist (2015) – continue? The answer is somewhere in the middle, because while Child’s Play 2019 has some enormous flaws, it’s also got its rough charms.
Child’s Play (2019) tells the story of Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) and his single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza). Life isn’t exactly grand for the Barclays, as the pair have moved to a dodgy neighbourhood where Andy doesn’t know anyone, and would rather spend time on his phone than attempt to socialise. Karen, who works at the rather grim looking Zed Mart, decides to acquire a new Buddi doll, a wifi-connected toy that acts like an exceptionally ugly Amazon Echo, to try and bring Andy out of his funk. Surprisingly, it seems to work, because while the doll who calls himself “Chucky” is “for little kids” according to Andy, it’s also malfunctioning in frequently hilarious ways. Chucky imprints on Andy, and slowly begins to learn the moppet’s likes and frustrations. While Andy and his new mates watch (somewhat inexplicably) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and laugh uproariously at the gore, Chucky seems to believe that Andy and chums actually like violence and wields a knife accordingly. Later, when Andy expresses his dislike for his mum’s boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), well, Chucky has a neat solution for that little problem too…
The biggest aspect that’s lacking in Child’s Play is, weirdly, Chucky himself. The newly designed doll is so unspeakably ugly that it’s simply not credible it would be a valued item on the market. Further to that, short of an intriguing prologue that seems to criticise the capitalist abuse of third world countries (that is swiftly abandoned), he has a maddeningly inconsistent agenda. While the original Chucky was actually the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray attempting to use dark magic to possess a small boy and get out of the doll’s body, 2019 Chucky is a toy whose “evil switch” has been turned on, which is just not a terribly compelling narrative. Mark Hamill’s voice work as Chucky is fine, but never feels integrated to the extent of Brad Dourif’s standout turn in the original series. The relationship between Andy and Karen is a lot better here, however, with Aubrey Plaza bringing her trademark snark and wit to a role that could otherwise have been thankless and dull, and young Gabriel Bateman is one of about half a dozen kid actors who isn’t hideously annoying.
The direction by Lars Klevberg is mostly effective, but its in service of a script that feels somewhat unfocused and almost certainly heavily rewritten and reshot. That said, there is fun to be had here. The initial reaction of the kid characters to Chucky is genuinely funny, a couple of the kill scenes are extremely well-staged and there’s a decent amount of gore and stoner comedy to amuse anyone looking for some amiable trash.
Ultimately, it’s apt that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 features so heavily here, because that film was rather famously criticised for being much less effective than its predecessor, relying instead on excessive gore and goofy comedy. So it goes with Child’s Play 2019, it’s less effective than the original Child’s Play movies (the first two in particular) but still delivers 90 minutes of mostly enjoyable, albeit thematically empty, gore and giggles. One can’t help but feel, though, that it would have been nice if they’d set their heights just a little higher than “evil wifi”.