My notes on Child’s PlayThe Child’s Play/Chucky franchise has been hanging in there with six sequels since Tom Holland’s 1988 hit, and – with series creator Don Mancini and voice-of-Chucky Brad Dourif still attached – seems likely to keep going even after this reboot/reimagining/remake. The tone of the saga has varied from mainstream through comic po-mo to gritty/nasty, with a weird tabloid footnote (at least in the UK) whereby relatively tame horror sequels picked up the reputation as the most evil movies ever made due to a (spurious) connection made with a real-life murder case. There were killer dolls before Child’s Play – Talky Tina from The Twilight Zone and the Zuni Fetish from Trilogy of Terror set — but Chucky is still in the game. This smart new iteration seems set to give the little bastard a new lease of life.
Screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith trims the baggage – no voodoo serial killer or possession angle – and takes a cue from the Simpsons parody of Child’s Play (‘here’s your problem – the doll’s set to “Evil”’) , that makes the Mark Hamill-voiced ‘Buddi Doll’ Chucky a separate character who could conceivably go up against the Dourif version in some future Chucky vs Chucky spin (hey, Japanese horror turned up Tomie vs Tomie). The original had something to say about consumerism, friendship surrogates and kid alienation/status-consciousness in the few scenes between stabbings. This takes jabs at contemporary trends in gadgetry, with Chucky not just a doll but an interface with household gadgets that can, of course, be used to kill.
Even before manifesting its mean streak, this doll waddles robotically and learns from its owner. The milieu is shifted down a few economic classes, with struggling single mother Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) working in a store that’s gearing up for the launch of the Buddi 2.0 and bringing home a returned Buddi for her hearing-impaired kid Andy (Gabriel Bateman) as they try to settle into a cramped new apartment. The redesigned Chucky looks like a rubber-face version of young Kurt Russell and Mark Hamill gives him a stuttering, Max Headroom-ish tone … not simply malevolent, but slightly pathetic as it acts out on Andy’s grudges then takes stalkerish steps to get him ostracised so he only has the doll to turn to.
In a meta-gag on the video influence controversy, this Chucky learns to be a slasher villain when Andy and his pals – great work in small roles from Ty Consiglio and Beatrice Kitsos – watch the age-inappropriate Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. ‘Are all horror movies like this?’ Andy asks, in disbelief, as the red-eyed doll files away face-skinning and skull-lopping as murder methods. Much of the horror is Gremlins-style black comedy as caricature gits – Mom’s smarmy boyfriend (David Lewis), the perv building super (Trent Redekop) – are stalked, though the film is ruthless enough to go after likeable characters too. Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry — in the role of the cop on the case – bring a lot to the adult roles, though this is mostly Bateman’s film.
Director Lars Klevberg manages a proper rollercoaster of gore and shock, but works in enough poignant, creepy stuff to set this apart from the run of the mill production line horror. Remaking Child’s Play, an original which wasn’t all that original, isn’t the sort of enterprise that prompts cries of sacrilege … and this is a quality, gruesome, nasty, slightly sweet horror.