It is inevitable with popular, much-loved horror movie franchises for them to be picked up, brushed off, and reimagined for current audiences. However, more times than not, this can end up not only upsetting fans of the original franchise but also ends up missing the mark in replicating the magic that made the original franchise so special.
This isn’t exactly the case with Lars Klevberg’s Child’s Play, which is a modern reimagining of the original ’80s film. While the plot itself feels predictable, there is a magic that comes from the new interpretation of Chucky’s origin and the gloriously complicated dynamic between Chucky and Andy. However, I’m not sure it is enough to satisfy fans of the original or bring new ones into the fold.
Child’s Play starts with young Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) adjusting to the new city he’s just moved to with his mother. His mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), is seldom around since she’s frequently working at a local Walmart-style department store in order to make sure that they have a roof over their head and that the bills are paid. Because of his background, which gets explained in little touches throughout the course of the film, Andy is friendless. He’s isolated himself for the most part. In order to try to provide him with some semblance of friendship, his mother brings Andy home a seemingly innocent Buddi doll that had been returned to the store. Her hope is that the new doll can become Andy’s new best friend. It doesn’t take long to realize that the doll is defective, but things start off innocently at first. After naming the doll Chucky, the doll slowly begins to learn about the world in which it occupies. However, like all lessons, sometimes what we learn can be misinterpreted. These misinterpretations go wrong in the worst ways and, after a series of incidents, Andy finds himself having to band together with his peers in order to find a way to bring the toy down.
I’ll be honest. The only movie I have seen from the original Child’s Play franchise is Bride of Chucky, which is probably when the franchise took a more campy, comedic route. So, that being said, I went into the film more as a casual horror fan rather than someone who lives and breathes Child’s Play. I wasn’t personally excited to see the film until I had heard that Mark Hamill had been cast to do the voice of the infamous killer doll, Chucky. Having been a fan of Hamill’s voice work prior to this film, I had high hopes surrounding his performance while not really knowing what to expect with the plot. Needless to say, I think my expectations were relatively realistic as the performances of the majority of the cast are the strongest parts of the film while the overall plot itself ends up weakening the overall product.
I’m going to start off with what many will be wanting to know first – Mark Hamill. How was he and does he manage to fill the shoes that Brad Dourif left behind? To be perfectly honest, I can’t think of anyone else who would be able to pull off this version of Chucky aside from Hamill. Whereas Dourif captured that homicidal serial killer feeling in the original, the newly constructed backstory for Chucky in this film is solidified through the genuine childlike innocence that Hamill captures in his vocal performance. That sincerity is what ultimately makes it difficult to be against the doll, even when he starts murdering not-so-innocent and innocent people. All he is doing is trying to make sure that he and Andy can be best friends forever. And I think if anyone else had tried to do the voice for this role, it probably would have fallen flat. For that, I have to tip my hat to Hamill.
Gabriel Bateman honestly knocks it out of the park as Andy. While Mark Hamill’s performance as Chucky will draw the most attention from audiences, Bateman’s performance as Andy and the dynamic he’s able to create working with the dolls used in the scenes is impressive. It also helps to build upon the newly revised story that Tyler Burton Smith has created by reinforcing the relationship we’re seeing between Andy and Chucky in this reimagining. Brian Tyree Henry provides some nuanced seriousness mixed with lighthearted humor as Mike while also playing on the tension that his character’s occupation brought to his scenes. In all honesty, though, the performances in Child’s Play may arguably be the thing that saves the film because the plot itself, despite the new elements that have been added, is fairly predictable. I think the only note I’d have was that I wasn’t entirely convinced by Aubrey Plaza’s performance as Karen. After seeing her in FX’s Legion, I felt excited to see what she’d do playing against type, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the notes she was aiming for in her performance as the young mom.
The plot itself is pretty formulaic. It’s what you would expect from a typical slasher-style horror film when you’re just waiting for the next person to get axed. Once you get the general idea of how this new version of Chucky operates, the flow of the plot is easy to predict and doesn’t present too much in the way of surprises. There is also a tried and true animal murder trope that I honestly wish they hadn’t put into the film, but I can’t argue that it didn’t make sense to the story because it did make sense. So, if you have an issue with the deaths of animals onscreen, I would advise maybe opting out of this particular film. It’s a trope I’ve personally never been fond of and, as I expected once those particular scenes passed, I was left partially distracted until we moved onto the people killings. The biggest surprise, however, is how the creative team decided to tackle the origin of Chucky and how he goes from an innocent, almost childlike doll just wanting to make his kid happy to a murderous, co-dependent doll that needed to be taken out by whatever means necessary. I was personally less interested in the actual plot playing out and more interested in watching how the relationship between Andy and Chucky developed. Is the relationship between Andy and Chucky enough to make up for the overall plot’s shortcomings? I’m not 100% sure. I think it’ll depend on the individual audience member’s preference.
Overall, Child’s Play was just okay. I was immensely drawn to how this version of Chucky had been written and how the origins completely reinvented a character that stills ends up being completely terrifying. I also enjoyed complicated and exciting to watch the new dynamic was between the more grown-up Andy and the doll. However, I think the overall plot itself weakens what could have been an arguably successful reboot. One could argue that this is just the bane of the slasher-style genre within the horror genre. You know, because there’s only one way a story can naturally go, but I am not sure the plot constructed is enough to make the film stand out in anyone’s minds. What will stand out is how co-dependent Chucky is on Andy and how far the doll will go to secure that friendship.
CHILD’S PLAY REVIEW RATING: 5/10
Child’s Play will slice its way into theaters on June 21, 2019. You can check out all of the previous updates about the highly-anticipated reboot by clicking here.