Sitting down to watch Child’s Play, you’re presented with film studio Orion’s opening credit. It’s styled straight out of the 1980s with a cosmic backdrop and a logo accentuated by a slight static flicker. Never before have I seen an opening credit so tonally aligned with the film it precedes.
Many people are not aware of how well Chucky’s first outing in 1988 has aged. It eventually trailed down a ridiculous road, but Don Mancini’s creation has endured and is rightfully revered as a champion of hair-raising horror. Mancini has reportedly not been thrilled with the remake, and he has reason to be wary given Chucky’s professional colleagues, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger, have already suffered by way of the Hollywood remake machine. Would Chucky suffer a theatrical fate as frightful as that of his victims?
He hasn’t. In fact, Chucky is alive and well and he’s just as creepy as we remember him. And he’s in a good movie to boot.
Andy Barclay (played by Gabriel Bateman) is a hearing-impaired, thirteen-year-old kid struggling to make friends. This is on top of not getting along with the new boyfriend of his mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza). In a bid to cheer her son up, she gets him an early birthday present. A smart doll named Buddi, the latest innovation from the Kaslan Corporation. Naming his new friend Chucky, Andy starts to open up to the doll, and even makes more friends thanks to Chucky’s slight and cool malfunctions. But those malfunctions are starting to become more apparent, and even sinister as Chucky goes to extreme lengths to be Andy’s best friend. It’s up to the boy to save his loved ones from the one who wishes to love him most.
Let us address the miniature elephant in the room brandishing the kitchen knife. Leading up to its release, the trailers and promotional material for Child’s Play featured very little of the redesigned Chucky. It’s easy to see why. Due to disproportionate facial features and a head too big for its body, it looks very unappealing. Even in the opening scene, you’re left shocked at how Kaslan could even market and sell such a being to family households. However, this inextricably leads to a very positive effect. Chucky is beyond creepy (Sweet Lord, the expressions he makes are probably what caused the scream in Edvard Munch’s painting) and owing to his sparse amount of screentime you are left in a lasting state of discomfort. It dramatically heightens the atmosphere throughout the film and sharpens the acknowledgment that there is something very wrong with this doll.
This leads to another positive of the film. Unlike the current trend of remakes (an upcoming Disney flick springs to mind), Child’s Play 2019 deviates quite a bit from the original, especially when it comes to the origins of its characters. Gone are the voodoo underpinnings and the Chucky’s desire to return to human form, and you are left with a child’s toy that descends into madness as organically as narratively possible. Chucky’s motivations are minimized and that in turn ups his levels of sinister. It’s an AI that was drawn down a psychopathic path by merely observing the people around him. Said people being predominantly young Andy and his friends. Unlike in the original where the action mostly concerned the adults with the child serving as the plot’s inroad, Andy is the one that moves this plot along in how he is having to deal with the horrific things happening around him. This is his battle to fight.
There is however a tradeoff to all this. It’s not at all scary. A factor in which the original one easily excels, this film has one decent jump scare at the midway point and that’s about it. Chucky’s presence and actions are more rooted in suspense than in horror, which can be a Catch 22 for a story about a killer doll. You can make him scary, but only for a certain amount of time. And even though there is a delicious selection of entrails to gorge on throughout this movie, it bows down to the absurdity of the story and doesn’t make attempts to ascend above it.
This seems like a conscious choice for director Lars Klevberg. The movie marks his feature-length directorial debut and he has approached this material with a firm grasp. The cinematography caters to deep shadows and the camera angles are intuitive. The writing is straightforward with a slight comedic edge. Aubrey Plaza and Gabriel Bateman deliver rock-solid performances. I won’t waste my word count on talking about Mark Hamill as the voice of the doll, as you can expect to enjoy every syllable that man mutters. I also won’t waste it on praises for the puppetry skills that the movie showcases. Away with CGI surgery, we’ve got the real deal thanks to some real technical mastery of physical animatronics.
I am honestly very impressed. I enjoyed Child’s Play much more than I expected. I am doubtful that it will achieve a longevity akin to that of Mancini’s iteration, and it does not contribute anything new to its genre. But through confident directing and an understanding of how best to tell this story in a modern age, it culminates in a popcorn party that does a beloved character justice.
Last Updated: July 17, 2019