There have been many legendary horror franchises over the years that have seen the remake treatment. “Friday the 13th”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Poltergeist” are just a few that Hollywood has attempted to reboot and/or remake with mixed reactions over the past few decades but surprisingly one franchise that remained untouched was the “Child’s Play” series focusing on Chucky the Killer Doll….until now. The “Child’s Play” remake and reboot was announced in July of last year seeking to modernize the famed murderous doll for a new audience, removing the more mystical elements of the plot and turning the doll into a malfunctioning piece of technology. Personally, I thought this was a cool direction to take the character and one that had the potential of providing some great commentary on the technology-obsessed society of today. I wasn’t always a big fan of the original franchise, but this new take on Chucky offered an opportunity for me and others to gain a new appreciation for his legacy. So, is “Child’s Play” a worthy remake of a legendary franchise or is it just another example of Hollywood trying to fix what many believe isn’t broken? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Child’s Play”.
“Child’s Play” serves as a remake/reboot of the 1988 classic horror film of the same name. The film focuses on Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a partially deaf 13-year-old and antisocial tech addict whose mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) works at the local Zed-Mart. Karen comes across a defective “Buddhi” doll, a state of the art companion from Kaslan Industries that can control all Kaslan products and form a bond with its “imprinted” owner. She decides to give the doll to Andy for his birthday. Andy christens the doll “Chucky” (voiced by Mark Hamill) and soon begins to bond with the machine. However, the defective doll begins to turn sentient, becoming obsessed with being Andy’s one and only best friend. After being exposed to horror films that amuse Andy and seeing several people threaten the pre-teen Chucky turns to violence to eliminate anything that puts his friend in danger. Soon Chucky’s obsession becomes even more dangerous putting Andy’s life and the lives of everyone in the town at risk.
I respect that the “Child’s Play” series is certainly a popular franchise that has amassed a massive fanbase of devoted defenders over the years, but I actually liked this concept better than the original film. Back in the 80s technology wasn’t as prevalent in society so it made some sort of quirky sense that the doll be brought to life by a murderer through some kind of sorcery. It served as a unique idea that added to the growing list of slasher icons at the time. It also made many people cautious about their dolls long before Annabelle was a thing in pop culture. But if you’re going to reboot such a huge franchise for today’s world you have to do something unique and I very much enjoyed the idea that writer Tyler Burton Smith and Director Lars Klevberg brought to the table. The 2019 “Child’s Play” presents Chucky as a mechanical toy that can control other technological items and thus makes him even more dangerous. His personality and nature are the results of learning and problems with his programming, not the spirit of a murderous human psychopath. He’s not just a man with murderous intent. He’s a malfunctioning piece of entertainment and something the everyday household in today’s world could actually use. In the days of smartphones and voice-activated products like Alexa that control multiple items in a home, this feels like an appropriate and relevant spin on the character and, in my opinion, is a much better use of the character. But that’s just me and even with a good idea a remake has to be able to present that concept effectively.
Unfortunately the remake only kind of capitalizes on the idea. While there is certainly plenty of social commentary mixed in to “Child’s Play” to warn of the growing dependence on technology in society, that idea is more of a jumping off point than a true point of caution to the viewers. On the bright side, despite borrowing some familiar ideas from your average, garden variety “technology gone back” flick “Child’s Play” never feels like a retread of similar sci-fi properties. On the other hand while “Child’s Play” offers some interesting concepts to take Chucky’s origins in a new direction but never goes all in. By the end of it all, I felt like it was a bit of a missed opportunity to really own the “we depend too much on robots” idea, especially with interconnected devices becoming the norm. Gone are the days where these ideas were simply fantasies and possibilities like when “I, Robot” came out. Now they are realities and it would have been so cool to see “Child’s Play” more fully develop the cautionary aspects of its narrative.
So, what about the horror element? The “Child’s Play” series as a whole is well known for its gory and graphic violence and creative deaths. The remake might not contain the most original death scenes ever put to film but you definitely get the blood and gore you’re looking for. When Chucky finally goes full-on homicidal it results in some great, cringe-inducing and violent kills filled with suspense and great slasher-themed terror. Sadly though only one of these kills really capitalizes on the overarching warning about artificial intelligence through the use of a “smart car”, although there is a fun and slickly hidden reference to another robotic toy, Teddy Ruxpin, in the finale. However, the biggest problem here lies with the victims. What keeps me invested in a horror movie is how much I can relate to or care about the victims and save for one death all of Chucky’s targets are people we are meant to care little about. There are few redeeming qualities to help us feel bad for them. We actually root for Chucky to succeed which might make the escapism of horror violence more enjoyable, but it doesn’t make for the best experience as a whole. I find more fun in being emotionally invested in a character’s fate. I want to sit there and feel like these people don’t deserve to die, which in turn makes the villain feel much more brutal and relentless. While the use of deserving victims might serve as a bit of subversive storytelling that helps the viewer relate more to the killer, in this film it feels more like the filmmakers played it safe and focused more on entertaining than anything else.
Even the performances were kind of middle of the road. Mark Hamill is actually a great Chucky, injecting humanity into Chucky as he tries to make Andy happy. Fun fact Hammill played Chucky on “Robot Chicken” so this is not his first time taking on the role. The effects used to bring Chucky to life are also pretty cool as he is presented as a physical, robotic toy rather than a CGI abomination for most of the film. Six actual robots were used to bring Chucky to the screen. Hamill packs just enough creepy into his performance while also allowing us to feel the confusion and evolution Chucky experience while trying to understand how to make Andy happy. The human characters though are very hit or miss. Aubrey Plaza is a nice breath of fresh air playing and against type role while still providing some of her trademark dry humor, but others like Gabriel Bateman, who plays Andy, Brian Tyree Henry, who plays a cop named Mike Norris, and David Lewis, who plays Karen’s boyfriend Shane, all feel like they’re not sure where to go with their character’s personalities. This is actually part of another issue that haunts most of “Child’s Play” which is the mix of tones that never really seem to sync up. Humor and horror can mix quite well, but in this movie they never really seem to jive. It’s easy to question what “Child’s Play” really wants to be, a dark comedy or a brutal gorefest, but we never really get an answer. The original series had its identity down pat and even shifted tones from movie to movie. The remake has a hard time finding its footing and the performances and story suffer as a result.
In the end, I did actually enjoy the “Child’s Play” remake, in some ways a lot more than several films in the original series. There are a lot of great elements worked into this film that help make it a much more worthy and enjoyable remake of a classic property than many other horror retreads could even hope to be and unlike a lot of past remakes I feel like I’ll remember this film for quite some time. But a flawed movie is still a flawed movie and “Child’s Play’s” biggest issue is that it fails to be greater than the sum of its parts. There are numerous great elements from Mark Hamill’s fun performance to the underutilized commentary on technology, the humor, and the blood and gore. All of these aspects separately shine as highlight elements of a neat remake, but they never mesh together to create a tight, focused, or fully realized experience. It’s a fun movie with plenty to offer, but I do feel like it could have been better. My conclusion: “Child’s Play” is an inspired and enjoyable remake that does justice to its source material even if it doesn’t do nearly enough to convince everyone that it deserves to exist. In some ways it’s a missed opportunity while in others it hits it out of the park. How much you enjoy it may depend on why you’re watching it and what you hope to get from it by the end.