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Child’s Play Review

June 26, 2019 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Child's Play
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Child’s Play Review  

*Mark Hamill as Chucky
*Aubrey Plaza as Karen Barclay
*Gabriel Bateman as Andy Barclay
*Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Mike Norris
*David Lewis as Shane
*Carlease Burke as Doreen
*Beatrice Kitsos as Falyn
*Ty Consiglio as Pugg

Story: After moving to a new city, young Andy Barclay receives a special present from his mother — a seemingly innocent Buddi doll that becomes his best friend. When the doll suddenly takes on a life of its own, Andy unites with other neighborhood children to stop the sinister toy from wreaking bloody havoc.

It was only a matter of time before Hollywood got to this one, seeing as how every other major horror villain of the 80s has had their chance at a remake. And don’t worry, Pinhead may finally be next. Chucky’s a little different, however, in that his original series is still going, with creator Don Mancini on board and everything. A direct-to-video sequel was released in 2017 and a TV series is set to debut on SYFY next year. Outside of an executive producer credit, Mancini was not asked to be a part of the remake and he was very vocal about his displeasure that MGM was remaking it at all. After all, the original series is still going. The reason MGM can do this is that they have the rights to the first film, while Universal (the original Chucky’s home since 1990) has the sequel rights.

The story of the drama surrounding the remake is, sadly, ultimately more interesting than the remake itself turns out to be. If you’ve seen the original, this has a similar framework. Andy’s mom gets him a doll, the doll turns out to be defective and begins killing people. The how and the why are different, but the gist is there. Honestly, without the trappings of a killer doll and the branding, I’d feel more comfortable calling this a Deadly Friend remake. It certainly has more in common with that movie or the little-seen Evolver than it does the original franchise. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. The best remakes will divert from the source and try new things. The problem is, Child’s Play doesn’t even try new things within the world of the killer AI story, so it’s a retread on multiple fronts.

You would think it would take a lot of effort to make the origin of Chucky dumber than the original film, but it turns out the opposite is true. And let’s not pretend the original is perfect. A serial killer transferring his soul into a doll via voodoo is, on its face, a very silly idea for a story. It’s still light years better than the doll eventually becoming evil because someone got made fun of at their job and turned off its safety protocols. That’s right. People die in this movie because someone in a factory got their feelings hurt. There couldn’t have been much thought put into that. A similar thing happens when Chucky gets his name. Well, he’s not a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray, so how do they put that nickname into this movie? A throwaway joke.

Once Andy gets the doll is about where it diverges from the original film while also managing to stay on the same formula. Chucky is still killing people one by one, but his motives are different. He’s not evil (at least not for a portion of the movie), he’s just defective. In fact, the movie makes a point to show it’s the actions of others that influence Chucky, almost to deflect blame. It’s an interesting tactic, in that taking a previously unsympathetic character and trying to evoke sympathy is something fresh. But the sympathy angle is dropped quickly, as if it was decided this was slowing things down. It also has a really bizarre moment where movie violence is blamed for Chucky’s actions, in a horror movie with violence.

As a side note, it’s probably not a good idea to be an R-rated horror movie and have the goriest thing in your movie be scenes from another movie. But at least I want to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 again.

The script is standard slasher fare, mixed in with some heavy-handed social commentary on our over-reliance of AI-based products (look out, Alexa might kill you). That means until the climax, you’re getting a kill, an argument, a joke that doesn’t land or actors trying to bring life to a lifeless script. You can see Plaza, Henry, Bateman and others trying hard, but their characters are written one-note and their scenes are so formulaic that you can guess their actions before they take them.

Lest you think this entire review is a hit job on this movie, there were some shining moments. One of them is Mark Hamill. Casting him was easily the smartest decision the producers made. Hamill did not only a great job in making his performance stand out from nearly everything he’s ever done in voice work (I was personally worried Chucky would laugh like the Joker), but it’s a completely different performance from Brad Dourif. That’s exactly the kind of thing you need if you’re going to remake a beloved character. Make it as different as possible and pick someone who’s good so they can do it justice. Hamill can be sympathetic at times and sinister at others, sometimes within the same moment, all through his voice. He even does two renditions of the “Buddi song” in the credits that provide a good example of that.

The movie also has little moments here and there that show its promise and what might have been. Two of the kills are great, with extended stalk sequences and a grisly finish. They’re also against characters that are unlikable, proving that the jerks in horror movies should always get it the worst. The movie also has one or two genuinely creepy moments, which admittedly is something the original Chucky hasn’t been since his debut outing. The moments are so good that it makes me wish the entire film had been like that so I could be calling this a new classic. The finale, which is a lot bigger than the claustrophobic apartment setting of the original, is also enjoyable while it lasts. On a final note, Bear McCreary’s score is getting praised universally and I won’t break that trend. He did a tremendous job and it’s a score I will be listening to on its own in the near future.

The fact that Child’s Play had flashes of promise at all makes the fact that it’s ultimately a misfire disappointing. When it is good, which isn’t often, it’s really good. The score and Hamill’s performance are phenomenal, and manage to carry it to the point where it’s not a bad film, just a misconceived and kind of boring one. It tried new things but also tried to stick to a slasher formula and itself weighed down by the pressure of doing both well.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Sorry Jack, Chucky's back. And he brings with him a mediocre remake that has a dull mess of a script with lifeless characters and mixed messages. Chucky himself is fine and Mark Hamill's performance is great, allowing the movie to be better than most of its other parts would have. Perhaps if it had been assembled better in the factory, this would have had a chance to be great. As it is, it's as defective as its star.

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Child's Play, Joseph Lee