Unlike a lot of horror movie franchises that start big then fizzle out over time, some to be rebooted for a new generation (Halloween) and some to forever haunt the “You May Also Like” pages of various streaming services (A Nightmare on Elms St.), the Child’s Play series has quietly chugged along, with varying degrees of success, since making its debut in 1988. The various sequels haven’t always been good, Child’s Play 3 with Chucky reuniting with a grown-up Andy at a military school is a low point, while some have been surprisingly top notch, like 2013’s gore-spattered Curse of Chucky. Just 2 years ago, the Chucky franchise made a triumphant return with the trippy Cult of Chucky, a fan favorite that not only gave viewers multiple “Chuckys” but also the return of his wife, Tiffany (a terrifically twisted Jennifer Tilly).
So the idea of a new Child’s Play movie hitting theaters in 2019 had the Chucky faithful in a frenzy. At least until they watched the actual movie, which, instead of re-energizing the series may just be the thing that kills the murderous Good Guy doll once and for all.
Marking the directorial debut of Lars Klevberg, the new Child’s Play tries to upgrade the original story with changes that do more to alienate the audience that embraces it. For example, instead of having the doll be possessed by the soul of a serial killer, as it was in the original, the new Chucky turns evil because a disgruntled worker in the Vietnamese sweatshop where the doll is manufactured turns off the safety features on a doll being shipped to the US. The message, it seems, is that all the dolls are killing machines controlled only by the flimsiest of software protocol leaving the door open for future malfunctions/sequels. Although less plausible to some degree, the idea of a doll possessed by an evil soul is just more exciting.
The ‘new’ Chucky is far less likable, too. That may sound like a strange point to make, but the doll of the first seven films was, to some degree, adorable. You could easily imagine a child wanting to bring a Good Guy doll home to be his new best friend. This new doll, called Buddi and then rechristened (by the doll itself) as Chucky for no discernible (or explained) reason, is butt ugly from it’s slicked back hair to its badly animated mouth. There’s nothing cute about it, not even in the ‘so-ugly-its-cute” kind of way. It’s creepy while it is still in the box. No child would want one and no parent would leave their kid alone with one. If there’s a reason for the change in doll styles, beyond some behind-the-scenes contractual obligations, it’s never revealed to the viewers and, given the resulting look of the new Chucky, it needs to be.
And speaking of unsuccessful changes, the replacing of Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky — the voice of Chucky for the previous seven movies — with the vocal stylings of Mark Hamill is a huge mistake. Dourif’s voice gave the Chucky Doll more than a threatening voice that could deliver deadly threats and killer one-liners, he gave the doll a unique personality that has stood strong for more than 30 years. Hamill brings little that is new or even very interesting to the part; his Chucky sounds an awful lot like the voice he used for The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. Only slightly more childish.
The rest of the cast for Child’s Play 2019 fares a little better. Gabriel Bateman (Lights Out) is serviceable as young Andy Barclay; he keeps the story interesting and our attention focused even when the plot starts to derail. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) is great as his mom, Karen, a young single parent trying to restart her life while struggling with the idea that her son may be turning into a psychopath who blames all his actions on his doll. Hers is the only character who seems to have a life, at least one worth watching, outside the confines of the scenes involving the killer doll. It adds a depth to the story that isn’t necessarily in the script.
There are a couple of interesting supporting cast choices that add to the film, too. Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) makes the most of the small part of the detective trying to solve the mystery of the multiplying body count, a performance that is outshone only by the work of Carlease Burke (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) playing his mom. And keep an eye out for Beatrice Kitsos (iZombie) in future movies because her brief time in Childs Play as one of Andy’s friends almost steals the show.
Despite such stumbling, Klevberg and his cast manage to put together a few interesting scenes in the new Child’s Play. There is one kill scene where a creepy apartment building janitor meets his end by way of a table saw to the crotch that is both tense and terrifying. There is a guy named Shane (David Lewis), the mom’s boyfriend, who has a similarly shocking, yet well-deserved run-in with a roto-tiller that will satisfy most genre fans, with the added delight of finding out what Chucky has done with one of his body parts in the following scene. There are a number of stabbings as one expects from a Chucky movie, but most of them are shot in such a way as to make them too obvious to be very scary. During the climactic battle where a toy store full of Chucky dolls come alive, there is one scene where toy drones armed with straight razors on their rotary blades is used to dive bomb the crowd, but the total lack of any explanation as to how they got there in the first place distracts from the impact of the sequence. Granted, we are watching a movie about toys that come to life and murder people so our sense of reality has already been left behind, but that doesn’t excuse such sloppy storytelling.
- John Black, Child's Play (2019)