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June 30, 2019

Child’s Play

by Franz Patrick


Child’s Play (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those looking for a creepy good time need not look further because this re-imagining of the 1988 horror classic “Child’s Play” is not just another slasher flick revived for the sole purpose of cashing in. In fact, right from the opening sequence it is proud to separate itself from the original by posing a technological question rather than an occult variety. In the 1988 picture, a doll is possessed by the soul of serial murderer; here, however, it is advanced technology gone horribly wrong, initiated by a mistreated factory worker in Vietnam. Yet it is not without dark but laugh-out-loud comic moments even when stabbings and slashing pervade the screen. I had a ball.

The plot is irrelevant: a tween-age boy named Andy (Gabriel Bateman) receives an early birthday present, a Buddi doll named Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill), from his hardworking mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), during a difficult transitional period of their most recent move. Andy, who is deaf, is having trouble making new friends. The screenwriter, Tyler Burton Smith, is smart to establish a relatively fast-paced exposition because it is entirely familiar. He knows that most of us are in it for the violence and the blood first and story second; at the same time, however, he is aware that the most effective horror movies must build up to bursts of violence rather than simply parading around one killing after another. It helps that Plaza and Bateman share genuine chemistry, some of their exchanges as mother and son are cute and amusing.

I am most uncertain about Chucky’s design, specifically its face. I was not scared or creeped out when, for instance, the camera fixates on the doll when a person is not around. (I was disturbed by the doll’s actions more than anything.) Perhaps it is due to the fact that it does not look like a doll that is sold in stores. It looks more like a prop. What makes the original so chilling at times is that Chucky, when sitting still and not emoting, looks like any other doll. (Followed by that killer score.) Furthermore, although this version of Chucky has a lot more expressions than its predecessors, the facial movements look too artificial or computerized at times. There is something about more ordinary-looking puppets that are far more frightening despite their innate limitations.

I enjoyed that the work bothers to show human relationships, whether it be the mother and son or the boy attempting to make new friends in the building. The neighbor (Carlease Burke) and her detective son (Brian Tyree Henry) are given a chance to shine, too. But what I think is far superior than any “Child’s Play” movies that came before is the relationship between the doll and its owner. Here, there is a short but sweet montage where Andy and Chucky are actually shown playing, laughing, getting along. We observe Chucky learning and then applying what he learned in inappropriate situations. It is so important, I think, for the work to communicate the bond between a boy and his inanimate friend first and then later smashing that connection into smithereens.

Directed by Lars Klevberg, I felt a wonderful energy from this model of “Child’s Play.” I felt it is free and full of life, not at all shackled by the past—that it is having fun with itself. This is how re-imaginings should be like. It is likely that newcomers to the series will enjoy this. For longtime fans, like myself, the work offers rewards like characters holding up certain household items or tools that previous Chucky movies had a good time with. While the gore is gratuitous at times, there is a story here worth looking into. I liked that, for example, it touches upon the defectiveness of the doll (it was returned by its original owner) and Andy’s feelings of insecurity precisely because he is deaf. I sense that a stronger sequel is in store for us should the same writer and director be given another chance and their willingness to entertain remain.

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