A lot of critics are wondering why there is a Child’s Play remake when the original franchise is still going. As someone who is a fan of the other movies, I went in with an open mind hoping to like it. When the credits rolled, I found things I liked but much of what we get is so extraneous.
This new Child’s Play follows a similar track as the original. Single mother Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) takes a defective and creepy Good Guy — er, um — Buddi [groan] doll home to her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), as a cheap birthday present and bloody mayhem ensues.
Despite hitting familiar notes, that’s where the parallels end. No longer possessed by the soul of a serial killer, Chucky (Mark Hamill) is now a malfunctioning AI obsessed with Andy’s happiness and picking up on all the wrong stimuli. With as many places that idea can be taken, they play it safe. So instead of something along the lines of last year’s visceral cyberpunk thriller Upgrade, we get a typical hack-and-slash bloodfest bearing a few extra twists.
And none of it in the abstract makes any sense. Who in their right mind, first of all, would buy an eerie-looking doll with access to all their home devices for their child? Let alone one being returned with a customer complaint?
Second, Chucky may, in essence, be a robot but you won’t notice the difference. Sometimes, he still seems like a fully functioning adult is pulling his strings. Like Charles Lee Ray of old, he gets around and sets up these preposterous kills, knowing how to operate machinery. And at the climax, Chucky goes after Andy more like a nimble predator than a cold, mindless machine.
As far as his bugs, the reason given for why running haywire makes Chucky evil is hardly sufficient. It’s a conceit they over-rely on. Some of his programming is secretly turned off, but so what?
Chucky has been played for the last three and a half decades by Brad Dourif and he is largely responsible for the killer doll’s wisecracking wit and personality. Mark Hamill is no Dourif (though he’s plenty capable as we know) but he does his best — even singing the catchy Buddi Song. He manages a few jokes of his own too, usually influenced by people around him. The funniest is the “This is for Tupac” line when he stabs a victim.
The real showstopper is Aubrey Plaza. You do not have to be a fan of Parks and Rec to appreciate her charm. She does way better than the mother from the original (Catherine Hicks) and Jenny Agutter (who served in such a function for Child’s Play 2) and builds a character that really captures the struggles of raising a son on her own.
Gabriel Bateman is precocious, filling some big tennies, as young Andy. He is the kind of kid Billy Batson might hang with. In fact, I half-expected them to meet; Andy’s neighborhood looks like it exists in the same universe as Shazam!.
Like Asher Angel, Bateman pulls his weight and holds his own during some tense scenes. When Chucky, for instance, leaves a trophy from a kill to either taunt Andy or seek his approval, Andy has to go to nailbiting lengths to dispose of it without incriminating himself.
Contrary to them is the supporting cast who only serve to either aid in the figurative shorting of Chucky’s circuits or show up to be so two-faced and unlikable that you won’t miss them when they die. And, boy, do they walk right into those deaths!
Child’s Play’s biggest handicap is it feels behind the curve, resembling a product more befitting a decade ago when horror franchises were revived left and right in a grislier, more discomfiting fashion. Blood and gore are upped, as is the displeasure that comes with that.
Some films find the right balance — such as those of the first in the franchise’s era — when others get lost in the mean-spirited mood behind the violence. Rob Zombie’s Halloweens, Michael Bay’s attempts with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Black Xmas suffer from this problem. Nothing is enjoyable about what Chucky does once he goes postal; he’s just a killing machine and that’s that.
Little reminders of where and when Chucky comes from are placed throughout the film in the form of posters and movies playing on TV. Two of Andy’s friends, Fallon and Pug, are horror fans and show him Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 for the first time (its greatest hits at least) — as great an idea as you can imagine with Chucky around. Director Lars Klevberg tries to pay tribute to Tobe Hooper but his execution is sloppy and not what Jim Jarmusch managed to do in the name of Romero with Dead Don’t Die.
Orion Pictures is staking its comeback on this. It might do all right; it’s a commercial property with a built-in audience that will be naturally curious. On the flipside, the summer is slow this year and riddled with franchise fatigue. Even epic pictures with something to offer, such as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, are having trouble.
Child’s Play doesn’t do enough to stand out.
- Aubrey Plaza
- Mark Hamill
- Gabriel Bateman
- Brad Dourif is missed
- Unlikable characters
- Elaborately dumb deaths