Directed by: Lars Klevberg
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill
Written by: Tyler Burton Smith
Running time: 90 minutes
Rating: R (for bloody horror violence, and language throughout)
Studio: Orion Pictures
Release date: June 21, 2019
Child’s Play 2019 is not your typical remake. The creative team behind the first film is still pushing the original continuity forward, with an upcoming Syfy television series about the killer Chucky doll. At the same time, MGM has opted to move forward with this modern retelling. Now instead of the spirit of a serial killer, this Chucky is possessed by corrupted artificial intelligence that can integrate with and control other Kaslan products, be they televisions, lightbulbs, smart cars, hearing aids, drones, thermostats, or other toys (think Siri or Alexa, but with a mean streak).
By now we’ve seen so many “AI gone wrong” films (a lot better than this one, too) that it takes something truly special to stand out (like 2014’s Ex Machina). Still, if you’re going to put a contemporary spin on the Child’s Play franchise, I certainly can’t think of a more apropos way.
At 13 years-old, Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) is a social outcast struggling to feel at home in his new Chicago apartment. Hoping to help her son adjust to their new surroundings, Andy’s mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) presents her son with an early birthday gift in the form of the hottest toy on the market: a Kaslan Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill). Once activated, the doll names itself Chucky and becomes very protective of Andy.
The two bond over the course of a short feel-good montage where Andy teaches Chucky how to do things like brush his teeth and play games. Chucky even helps Andy befriend two neighborhood kids, Pugg (Ty Consiglio) and Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos), who are fascinated by this Buddi doll’s lack of inhibitions.
Director Lars Klevberg takes his time building up Chucky’s motivations for killing before unleashing the gory fun. You see it’s not until people start making Andy unhappy that the doll begins behaving badly and when he does, it isn’t innately. Chucky initially employs violence as a means to make Andy happy after seeing how much he and his friends enjoyed consuming similar savagery in their media. So once the bodies do start piling up, it’s because Chucky is trying to rid Andy’s life of things that hurt him and through means which Chucky thinks will make Andy smile again.
Things predictably spiral out of control after Andy rejects Chucky due to his newfound violent tendencies. I rolled my eyes at how long it took Andy to start taking Chucky’s brutal outbursts seriously. It’s the kind of frustratingly cliche decision-making that plagues far too many horror movies, especially these types of slashers. When Andy eventually does try to tell people about Chucky, few believe him, which puts the onus on the birthday boy to put an end to all the bloodshed once and for all.
Though characterization is largely lacking, the performances are strong. Gabriel Bateman gives an impressive performance as the film’s young lead. Brian Tyree Henry does fine work as Detective Mike Norris, the cop put on all of Chucky’s murders, though his character is largely forgettable. Then there’s the immensely talented Aubrey Plaza, who is nearly unbeatable when she’s dialed in. Unfortunately, here she seems bored and I can’t blame her. Unlike Catherine Hicks in the original Child’s Play, Plaza isn’t given much to do as Andy’s mother aside from the sarcastic shtick that made her famous. As a result, Plaza comes off more as Andy’s goading older sister than his mother. Though Mark Hamill’s Chucky is more tempered than we’re used to, his voice work sincerely reflects the range of emotions that his Buddi doll experiences.
Perhaps my biggest gripe about this new Child’s Play pertains to the Chucky doll itself. The puppetry is somehow worse in 2019 than it was in 1988. Its movements are unnaturally clunky and when it’s not a physical puppet on screen, Chucky’s CGI is often laughably bad. I was repeatedly taken out of the movie by the amateurish bringing to life of the Buddi doll.
Fortunately, much of Child’s Play seems more inspired than the average remake. The ideas it incorporates about our over reliance on technology aren’t exactly new, neither is its not-so-subtle commentary on American consumerism. That said, there are enough laughs and fun deaths to warrant a recommendation for those who get off on that sort of thing.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five)
Have you checked out the new Child’s Play? If so, what did you think? Jump down to the comments below and let me know your thoughts!