“Child’s Play”- Movie Review
We all have that one movie we saw as a child that left us traumatized. For me, that movie (or at least one of them) was the 1988 slasher flick, Child’s Play. I could fill up half of this review with reasons as to why the film scarred me as much as it did, but if you’re interested in a condensed version, feel free to head on over to the list I made last Halloween about the stuff that scared the hell out of me as a kid. Needless to say, I never looked at my American Girl doll the same way after seeing it. And when I heard it was getting the reboot treatment, I was curious as to whether a new rendition of the Child’s Play story would be able to deliver a similar effect.
This new version stays mostly true to the original concept, but gives it a more contemporary spin. Thirteen-year-old Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) and his single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), have just moved into a new apartment. Between struggling to make friends and dealing with his mother’s douche-of-a-boyfriend, Andy has had trouble adjusting. Things seem to brighten a bit when Karen surprises him with a Buddi doll for his birthday. Now this doll is not a normal doll. It’s an interactive, A.I.-driven toy that connects to the Cloud and is programmed to be your best friend till the end. On top of that, Andy’s Buddi doll is not a normal Buddi doll. It has a malfunction, one that quickly festers into something far more dangerous than anyone imagined.
Considering the abundance of lackluster horror reboots/remakes that exist, you’d think Child’s Play 2019 would be yet another forgettable, half-baked rendition that’s destined to be buried at the bottom of a discount bargain bin. But in reality, it turns out this isn’t the case. The biggest surprise the film has to offer is the fact that it’s a legitimately decent movie. Even, dare I say it, just as good as the original (which, let’s be honest, isn’t much of a masterpiece, despite the legacy it’s built over the years).
Gabriel Bateman carries the film on his shoulders, and delivers a solid performance while doing so. Aubrey Plaza is pretty good as well, even though I never once bought her as Andy’s mother. An aunt? Sure. A temporary guardian? Absolutely. She and Bateman have good chemistry, but their supposed mother/son dynamic never reached the point of being believable. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to seeing Plaza in comedic roles that it’s hard for me to take her one hundred percent seriously in a role like this. Nonetheless, she does a good job, as does Brian Tyree Henry as the detective who’s investigating the string of murders Chucky has left behind, and Mark Hamill as the titular murderer.
It’s shocking how effective the story’s new approach winds up being. The idea of artificial intelligence turning evil is inherently a little silly, and when the A.I. is in the form of a cutesy 5-foot tall children’s toy, it’s even sillier. Though it works here because the evolution from innocence to wickedness is properly built up. Rather than have Chucky evil from the get go, his thirst for blood is something that’s learned over time. He starts out innocent, and the bond formed between him and Andy feels genuine. You find yourself sympathetic toward him, and understand why he becomes a ruthless killing machine.
The tone can be inconsistent at times. For the most part, the horror and comedy blend pretty well. There are moments that’ll be spur some unintentional laughs out of you and test your suspension of disbelief. But the film’s weaknesses are balanced out by entertaining kills and creepy imagery. It’s obvious the filmmakers put thought and effort into crafting this movie. The cinematography, the practical effects, the eery score by Bear McCreary- everything is treated with care to ensure this film has its own identity. Even Chucky’s new design reflects this, despite it being a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I understand that you need to emphasize that this isn’t a continuation of the original franchise. On the other hand, the design is a little, um, off. It’s frightening right off the bat, whereas the 1988 Buddy design looks like something a parent would buy for their child. The 2019 design looks more like a prank gift you’d give to someone who you know has a paralyzing fear of dolls.
In the end, Child’s Play is neither better nor worse than the original. In fact, I think it’s the first reboot I can confidently say is on par with its predecessor. It would’ve been so easy to do a shot-for-shot remake, but I commend director Lars Klevberg and everyone who worked on it for bringing something different to the table. Don’t go into this movie expecting greatness, because you’re not going to get it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go into it at all. There’s fun to be had with Child’s Play. All you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Cosmic Grade- 3.3/5 Stars