Courtesy of Orion
Killer dolls, what can you do?
We all know who Chucky is: the ginger-haired, knife wielding “friend to the end” who - in the original 1988 B move classic “Child’s Play” - was possessed by a serial killer through some voodoo magic. Now, since its 2019 and cultural appropriation is very much a thing, Lars Klevberg’s clever remake of the same name retools the killer toy concept with a sense of wonder, glee, gore and technology.
In this outing, which sees voice acting vet Mark Hamill lending his chops to Chucky in lieu of Brad Doriff (who by the way is still voicing Chucky in another franchise, but do to licensing, Orion Pictures owns the rights to remake the first “Child’s Play” film) - a disgruntled employee of tech company Kaslan Corp. removes all normal programming and safety protocols from a Buddi doll, which is then shipped overseas and finds it way into the hands of Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) - a struggling single mom unable to afford a birthday present for her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman - terrific) after moving into a new apartment complex.
In this version of the “Child’s Play” universe, everyone owns a Buddi doll and technology basically runs their lives. It’d be like Imagining Chucky as Alexa, but if Alexa could manifest and stab you 13 times without blinking. Considering the whole idea of a serial killer using a doll as a vessel seems outdated, Klevberg is wise to take the “Child’s Play” series in this conscious 21st century direction.
As you’re probably aware, Andy grows a bond and latches on to his “Buddi,” in the wake of his dad presumably leaving his family (one of the many subplots that gets looked over). The hyper-kinetic robotic toy is well equipped to adapt to any situation, he can connect to your bluetooth, order you a Kaslan Car to drive you places, and when his safety features are off, can strangle a cat and remove faces with a lawn mower.
The redesign of Chucky - though a bit odd and quirky from the start - provides an impressive level of entertainment, especially during the films first half. Whether its learning foul language, or confusing the kids laughing at the silly and grungy deaths in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as a good thing, watching Chucky adapt to his circumstances gives a resonances missing from previous installments. Here, he’s a victim of his programming, and through Hamill’s top notch voice work, there are moments when you’ll sympathize with Chucky.
Plus the entire third act is just bonkers and goes off the rails real quick and it’s what ultimately saves “Child’s Play” from being a loose remake without any style. And it helps that the performances are elevated, Bateman in particular gets the gold star with his ranging emotions and whenever you cast Brian Tyree Henry as a detective piecing all this mayhem together your film will only benefit.
Still, “Child’s Play” leaves much on the table as the screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith ditches some of the more intriguing elements from its predecessor (how Chucky framed Andy for all the murders). Not to mention, even by “Child’s Play” already gruesome standards, I thought the body count and deaths were lackluster. However, it’s hard to ignore the ripe and delicious social commentary baked in here, the whole idea that our technology is what’s going to kill us has a resounding potency. On second thought: ‘Hey Alexa? Turn off…’