Horror remakes never usually fare well, with the likes of iconic big hitters Freddy and Jason having even failed the reboot treatment. The latest in line is a curious one, given that Child’s Play is a franchise that is still churning out sequels to a dedicated fan-base who still loves them (the most recent being 2017’s Cult of Chucky). The studio that holds the rights to the original 1988 film decided to remake it, which hasn’t gone down well with Chucky creator Don Mancini, actors Jennifer Tilly and Brad Dourif (who has been the voice of the doll since the start), and the fan community. But when has that ever stopped Hollywood?
Removing the supernatural element completely, 2019’s Chucky (voiced by the brilliant Mark Hamill) instead plays out as a tech-savvy toy doll that malfunctions with horrifically dire consequences. The plot reasoning behind the doll malfunctioning could have been stretched out much more, and this would have actually given the film some needed depth of narrative. But this goes begging and the set-up is rushed along so that the doll gets in the hands of his its owner pretty quickly.
Something that does mirror the original is the domestic set-up. A hard-working single mom named Karen (Aubrey Plaza) gets a customer return of a Buddi doll after a minor malfunction. Deciding to wait for the newly released Buddi 2 doll in a few weeks time, the customer takes the refund and the faulty doll is destined for the scrap-heap. Having just moved into a new apartment and with her son struggling to make new friends, Karen spies an opportunity to give him an early birthday present and manages to take the doll home to Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Andy soon enjoys playing with the newly named Chucky, who links up to all other electrical devices as a kind of one-stop hub much like an Amazon Echo or a Google Home Mini. But with the doll’s safe-guards stripped out, Chucky soon exhibits dangerous tendencies as he asserts his claim to be Andy’s best buddy.
What’s so frustrating about this remake is that there’s actually stuff to explore here, in a ‘robot uprising’ sort of way, but it all feels half-baked. And the look of the doll doesn’t help either. This is meant to house a wealth of new wave tech to make it the hottest toy on the market, yet it looks terrible. There is no way a doll this ugly would ever make it past the drawing board. And this new design for Chucky never feels at ease with itself, instead looking really dated and awkward at every opportunity. At least the original Chucky’s look was perfect for the type of toy he was… this feels like a poor imitation that hasn’t adapted to its own story. I suspect the original Chucky or Annabelle would kick his ass in a fight.
Mark Hamill is the best thing in the film and he at least gives the voice of Chucky some malevolence. The song he sings is also quite entertaining (and can be heard in full if you stay for the end credits). Hamill works off an impressive Gabriel Bateman who does a great job as the unwitting child-owner of the evil doll. He manages to work the comedy angle well too, especially in a sequence involving a severed head inadvertently being gift-wrapped as a present. Aubrey Plaza continues to play herself onscreen, but it’s slightly odd to see her in the ‘Mother’ role now. Wasn’t Parks and Recreation only a few years ago?! Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry steals all of his scenes as Detective Mike Norris and is a joy to watch.
There are laughs to be had, with some hilariously absurd situations being mined for comedic value. There’s a great sequence involving a self-driving car that hits all of its marks. But this also reminds you that there was a lot of natural comedy to be farmed from the ‘technology gone bad’ scenario that 2019’s Child’s Play doesn’t nearly explore enough.
The horror is light, with it being more tongue-in-cheek gore rather than disturbing. This won’t leave a spooky mark, but director Lars Klevberg clearly has fun with some of the set-pieces. A favourite is a man tied to a water-pipe as a buzzsaw whizzes away inches from his toes, and a grand finale that has some inventive uses for drones and some Gremlins-style mayhem involving a midnight store opening for the new Buddi 2 doll.
Perhaps the best way of looking at this film is a 90min distraction that plays to slasher movies tropes well enough to raise a few chuckles. But there’s no lasting legacy here and it’s too instantly forgettable to have made this whole endeavour worth the time. If you’re a horror fan and a completist then have a few beers and enjoy the predictable ride. But there’s little here to get excited about, and it certainly won’t change the minds of anyone fiercely loyal to the original.
Cast: Mark Hamill, Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, Henry Kaslan, David Lewis, Beatrice Kitsos, Hannah Drew, Trent Redekop Director: Lars Klevberg Writer: Tyler Burton Smith Certificate: 15 Duration: 90mins Released by: Vertigo Releasing Release date: 21st June 2019