Child's Play (2019): Chucky Takes On Technology
Director Lars Klevberg takes the Child's Play franchise into the modern era with his debut, a reimagining of the original horror classic penned by first-time screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith. There’s some welcome changes, like Mark Hamill voicing Chucky, and there’s some fun sequences, but ultimately, this soft reboot fails to reach the heights of its updated premise’s potential.
Karen, a single mother (played by Aubrey Plaza), gifts her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a damaged Buddi doll, a high-tech smart device companion (voiced by Mark Hamill), for his birthday. Andy and his pal, Chucky — the name it assigns itself — quickly form a bond that takes progressively sinister turns.
2019’s Child’s Play updates the franchise’s beloved icon from a notorious serial killer whose spirit inhabits a doll to an A.I. that malfunctions thanks to a disgruntled employee who gets fired. The depiction of Chucky’s “birth” is almost comical; unrealistically large bolts of bluish white lightning flash and crack above the bland imprisonment of the Kaslan (the makers of Buddi and other products) factory like it’s the 90s. The remake also brings the very capable Mark Hamill on to replace Brad Dourif (who was the voice of the franchise for nearly 30 years) as Chucky, which seems promising on first blush. However, due to character limitations, Hamill isn’t afforded the freedom of going to the places Dourif’s serial killer could go; he doesn’t have any good lines or come off all that menacing.
The modernizations that Smith and Klevberg give to Chucky are fine, but they end up being the film’s Achilles heel. Like Hamill’s depiction of Chucky, the modern update prevents the film from letting loose and really having a good time. There’s some fun bits and some nice elements, but they never coalesce into a cohesive whole. Everything begins fairly tight but quickly starts to unravel like that infamous Weezer song. It does the right thing by taking the time to set up the characters before the horrors unfold, but the stakes aren’t as high as they are in the original, and its gradual build can be somewhat of a slog at times.
The film’s overall premise has pretty wobbly legs that requires a lot of suspended disbelief. It’s easy enough to climb aboard the original’s premise — the kid is only six years old — but it’s another thing to believe that the 13-year-old Andy, who kinda looks like a younger version of Ansel Elgort from Baby Driver — he even has the hearing impairment (which wasn’t ever utilized in the story) — would associate with a eerily repulsive children’s toy, even if he is a sad loner in need of a friend. However, more than anything, it’s the film’s smart-hub concept that the biggest stretch; it’s one thing for the Buddi doll to be a kids’ toy, but who would pay to have that disgusting doll to be your Alexa?!
The new Chucky design is also laughably bad. It evokes a goofy feeling in place of a creepy chill, which ultimately makes Chucky into an unimposing figure. There were additions, like Chucky’s glowing eyes (which move from blue to red, depending on his mood), that didn’t feel necessary, as they stripped another element of mystery from the character. His new abilities to control technology are never fully realized and only factor into its soft and anti-climatic conclusion. Much like the rest of the film, it doesn’t strive too hard at anything and seems content to do the bare minimum. Story elements aren’t fully set up, causing the narrative to feel forced along, particularly in its back half. There are elements and characters that don’t always feel natural (like the watermelon that become a bizarre sub-plot).
Overall, Child’s Play lives within an oddly contained small world and never lets loose or raises much hell due to the box it’s placed itself in. The film’s Toy Story themed marketing campaign is the most inspired and inventive aspect to an otherwise bland and unenthusiastic reimagining. Aside from one good kill and dumping buckets of blood on a screaming little girl, there’s not much for the gore hounds. Bear McCreary crafts a phenomenally sensational score that is much too good for Klevberg and Smith’s lazy vision, but at least Aubrey Plaza and company know what kinda film they’re making and have as much fun as they can within the limitations of their roles. It’s just not enough to get this modern facelift to float.
Recommendation: Unless you’re a diehard fan who’s eager to see this modernization, hold off on this one until it’s available on VOD or streaming.
Rating: 2 ominous smiles outta 5.
What did you think? How’d this reboot work for you? Do you feel like the technology angle was fully explored? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!