2019ʼs Child's Play differs significantly from the 1988 original in its initial setup. A new smart device called the Buddi, a hub for all your devices and a friendly electronic toy, is the hottest craze right now. When struggling single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) is able to snag a slightly-faulty Buddi doll that was returned to the store where she works, she gives it to her shy, friendless son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), as an early birthday present. But what they don't know is that this particular doll was assembled by a disgruntled sweatshop worker who hacked it to develop potentially malicious intent.
The original film from 1988 is pretty iconic. It was directed by Tom Holland (the horror filmmaker, not Marvel actor), who wrote and directed Fright Night (one of my favorite horror movies of all time). And Brad Dourif's Chucky is one of the most recognizable slashers of all time. His Chucky was also in a slew of sequels (some good, some not). So the idea of doing a reboot, even though one of said sequels came out as recently as 2017, was somewhat ill-advised. But once it was announced that Mark Hamill would be lending his voice to this new iteration of Chucky, a casting choice which Tom Holland himself called a “smart move” on Twitter, some fans were a bit less hesitant. Still, Chucky creator Don Mancini was unhappy with MGMʼs decision to remake the first film, which was discouraging to many loyal fans. I am relieved to report that Child's Play ‘19 is a success. I enjoyed the hell out of this flick. It's not perfect, and I'll definitely address the places in which it falls short, but there's a lot to love about this one.
Probably the most impressive achievement was director Lars Klevberg's and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith's method of reinterpreting the original film's premise. In 1988, horror films were often about either serial killers or the occult. Therefore, a movie about a serial killer who uses voodoo to transfer his soul into a doll was not entirely out of place. In today's horror market, there's much more emphasis on A.I. run amok, and the potential dangers of modern technology. This made the reimagined origin story a little more timely, catering to more contemporary audiences. This is a good move when remaking an iconic film, especially a horror film.
This new Chucky is awesome! While the design might take some getting used to for fans, it very much works for this newer version. There's some fairly blatant E.T. imagery there, as well. When the Buddi doll activates another smart device, its index finger lights up. It also helps that Andy is wearing a red hoodie throughout a lot of the film. This further emphasized one of the most interesting fundamental differences between the 80s Chucky and the 2019 Chucky: his intentions. The original Chucky was a notorious serial killer inhabiting a doll. This Chucky is a robot, who is programmed to be a child's best friend. But because he's been tampered with, he doesn't have any inhibitions or safety protocols, and it doesn't take long for him to figure out how to kill people. This version of the character doesn't realize that he's evil, he's just lacks any sense of logic, reason, and mercy, almost like a cuddly HAL-9000. He gradually develops into a monster simply because he doesn't know any better. And we have to talk about Mark Hamill. My god, he's fantastic. While I think most audiences were expecting him to do a more evil, Joker-type voice for him, he instead gives Chucky a more childlike voice. This makes it extra creepy when his obsession with Andy leads him to acts of violence, and it was sublime.
The cast is great in this one. We see a bit more range from Aubrey Plaza than we typically do, given her more common deadpan persona. The kid who plays Andy also really impressed me. As we all know, child acting in horror movies can be hit or miss, but Gabriel Bateman showed a good deal of talent and potential. Brian Tyree Henry is also in this movie as Detective Mike Norris. He really impressed me in several roles he played last year, and he does deliver in this one, as well. Unfortunately, one of the film's drawbacks is that the character of Mike Norris is not given very much to do in this film. Norris was an integral part of the original, but he's not nearly as vital here. I'm not sure if this is even that much of a detractor from this movie, but he was one of my favorites from the first one (though that was probably due to him being played by Chris Sarandon). Another downside is that there are a few characters to whom far too much attention is given. Some other kids from the neighborhood get involved, and it feels kind of like an attempt to capitalize off of things like It or Stranger Things and their teams of monster-fighting kids. I just thought that was a bit annoying.
A fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required for this movie, but that's probably to be expected. It involves a killer robot doll hacking into other various devices in order to kill people, so it's gonna be a bit far fetched. However, this does mean that the kills in the film can be rather inventive. I don't want to spoil too much, but I'll just say that my favorite involves Karen's asshole boyfriend. The film also knows exactly how and where to use humor throughout the story. While the first few films in the original franchise understood how to keep a steady and suitable tone, much like with the Elm Street franchise, they started to get a bit too goofy (until the last two sequels, which creator Don Mancini helmed entirely by himself). Luckily, this new reboot creates that proper balance, and believe me, there are some laugh-out-loud moments in this film, but it also has its moments of pure terror.
Another cool aspect of the movie is its mixture of both practical and digital effects. For most of the film, Chucky is purely animatronic, rather than CGI, which is pretty refreshing these days. They do use some CGI in a few spots, in which his movements need to be either faster or more humanlike. While these bits are noticeable, they don't feel unnecessary, per say. The gore in the film is also great, and there's plenty of it. And most of it appears to be practical, which again, is usually a plus.
The new 2019 Child'sPlay aptly reinterprets its predecessor for modern audiences in a way that is both timely and entertaining. It might not win over too many new converts, but as a throwback to 80s slashers with a more modern twist, it's a wonderfully clever remake that horror hounds are likely to enjoy.