CHILD’S PLAY (2019)
Directed by Lars Klevberg
The toys are back in town! Yes, this June sees not just the return of Buzz, Woody and co, but also Annabelle and her creepy pals too. And then there’s also the nastiest talking toy of them all: Chucky. He’s here as a high tech new model, with a cutesy makeover, and 100% less Voodoo for Dummies. It’s a remake fans really haven’t been looking forward to since it spells out the death of the old continuity after 30 years. First came denial, that we’d actually never see it. Then there was anger when a trailer dropped. I noticed a slight change in how people talked about it after it got announced our killer doll would be voiced by none other than Luke Skywalker himself. Perhaps a bit of bargaining from a studio keen to get people back on side?
To be clear, Mark Hamill (whose casting is subject to a nice gag) is the big draw. As well as being an onscreen Icon, he’s an accomplished voice actor in his own right – arguably the best Joker. He brings a lot to this role, instilling it with a sweetness that makes veteran Brad Dourif a distant memory for ninety minutes. His Chucky isn’t personalised like Dourif’s, given the movie dispenses of the serial killer angle entirely in favour of good tech goes bad thanks to an undervalued worker (the motto – be nice to your staff). It’s a risky but wise move, that affords the character an innocence he’s never had before. Chucky isn’t malicious – he’s just very, very needy and too literal. He does plenty of bad things, and there’s no getting around that. But in their own way, all of them are sincerely be about making Andy happy. It’s not the same existential drama we saw Glen/ Glenda go through in Seed. Importantly though, it feels fresh. And by not making it into another sequel, and only superficially sticking to the original, it’s able to spend time building up Chucky and Andy’s co-dependent relationship.
Because for the first two thirds, it’s a very small-scale horror with the focus on a lonely kid getting to welcome and then fear the unconditional love of his toy. Echoing the original, it takes place in an apartment block where a hard-working single mum (an excellently cast Plaza) gets her son Andy (Bateman) a doll for when she’s at work, or with her dick boyfriend. It’s rewarding to see the movie write both parts sympathetically, rather than her busy schedule being used as an excuse to keep her off the screen. Their bond gives the movie dramatic weight, and the absence of a father explains why she’d be drawn to this toy that can basically be another parent. This time Chucky’s not just a cuddly Good Guy, but a futuristic, smart-home Buddi from major tech conglomerate Kaslan (think Apple meets Sony by way of Uber). They have a range of self-driving cars, speakers, TVs and drones: all of which their Buddi can connect with and control. Maybe it’s a comment on Western technological dependence, or automation reaching the absurd point where increasingly tech-obsessed children are given artificial friends for convenience. Regardless, it’s a solid setup for a brilliant, and often gleefully bad taste, horror-comedy.
For the most part, the tone is closer to the early Child’s Play films than the later ones – Chucky gets a lot of screen time, but scenes are rarely told from his point of view. In this respect, he’s back to being a threat, with some sequences being downright creepy. As per the uncanny oddity of ventriloquist dummies, his almost human look is less intimidating than the Chucky we’ve known for years, but is definitely more eerie. Not that it takes itself too seriously. In invoking the Goonies style kids banding together narrative (some of the others like Andy because his doll swears) the focus is also on fun. It’s very knowing in places too, with a number of Easter eggs for genre fans. These include familiar posters, gags about movie conventions and a scene when they all watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – where Andy’s joy at the kills encourages Chucky to be more violent. It even baits a potential crossover flick that fans have talked about for years. Yet unlike more recent Chucky outings, its self-awareness doesn’t get in the way of the horror at its core.
It helps that all of the cast are likeable, and are able to do the laughs as well as the screams. This is no small feat given they need to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the story without making it lapse into parody. Child’s Play retains the sense of humour the franchise is best known for, with some genuinely hilarious sequences throughout. The early scenes with Chucky are even quite heart-warming, as he and Andy bond, to the point you almost don’t want to see him turn. It’s also pitch-black when it wants to be, with a farcical scene involving a melon being among the funniest I’ve seen all year. Then there are the kills! Some are downright nasty – with way more gore than we’ve seen before. I won’t give much away, but to say that one with workshop equipment is absolutely squirm-inducing. However, towards the end, there’s an attempt to up the scale, as the movie goes further towards being a cautionary Black Mirroresque fable about modern tech. I love the idea, but the budget evidently wasn’t there for the makers to commit to their vision. As such, it falls far short of what it could have been.
We may still see it get there though. As has been well publicised, the classic Child’s Play will continue as a TV show: you can’t keep a Good Guy down. However, if this one makes money maybe we’ll get another movie series that embraces the science fiction potential of its premise. I wouldn’t be against this. Maybe future instalments can see the great toy apocalypse as Chucky exploits the data stored by tech giants and takes over every automated car, sound system and robot he can. I’d certainly watch it. Which is not something I thought I’d be saying even a week ago. I guess I’ve moved on into acceptance.