Movie Review: Child’s Play (2019)

Demonic Doll Month continues this week in Hong Kong with the release of the remake/reboot of the 1988 horror cult classic, CHILD’S PLAY. This time, though, Chucky hasn’t been possessed by a serial killer. He’s a walking Amazon Alexa that has gone terribly rogue.

In this updated version of CHILD’S PLAY, the ubiquitous Kaslan Corporation and its Jeff Bezos-like founder and CEO Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE) has launched its latest IoT product — a high-tech, interactive doll called “Buddi” that learns from its surroundings and acts accordingly. The company is churning the dolls out at its sweatshop factory in Vietnam as fast as families back in the US are snapping them up but when a disgruntled employee tinkers with the programming on one of the adorable plastic-and-circuitry tykes, the wheels get quickly set in motion for bad things to happen. A short time later, single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza, TV’s PARKS AND RECREATION), who works as a bored, customer service clerk in a Chicago big-box store, decides to bring a returned Buddi doll home for her 13-year-old son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman, LIGHTS OUT), who is struggling to make friends in their new neighbourhood. Andy quickly bonds with the doll, which immediately calls itself “Chucky” (voiced by Mark Hamill, the STAR WARS franchise), and Chucky helps Andy make friends with two other teens in his building. It’s not long, though, before the doll starts to show violent tendencies and embarks on a killing rampage to try to please his/its playmate and best friend.

Let’s be honest about the original CHILD’S PLAY — it’s really cheesy with its stiff dialogue and ridiculous plotlines. (I don’t think it was intended to be that way.) But because it is so cheesy, it has developed a huge cult following that has resulted in six sequels, a pair of short films, comic books, a video game and now this film. (A TV series is also in the works for next year.) The 2019 CHILD’S PLAY has its own camp moments but this film has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. It knows it’s campy and it embraces it. The plot, which pokes fun at everything current from consumerism to self-driving cars to slacker millennials, is delightfully bonkers, though the story does veer somewhat off the rails at the film’s blood-soaked climax. The 2019 Andy is twice is the age of the 1988 Andy so he’s more worldly and tech-savvy, which works well when he realises what Chucky has been up to when he’s not been watching. Of course, one can question why a 13-year-old boy would want to spend time with a doll but when I see 30-year-old women here having little Hello Kittys or Totoros dangling from their fake Michael Kors purses, I guess anything is possible.

Plaza is underutilized here compared to her 1988 counterpart (played by Catherine Hicks, TV’s 7TH HEAVEN) because the story correctly focuses on Andy rather than on his mother, but she does nail a great line explaining how she has a teenage son given that her character is in her very early 30s. Unlike Chris Sarandon (DOG DAY AFTERNOON), who played Detective Mike Norris in the original, Brian Tyree Henry (WIDOWS; IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK) is definitely in it for the laughs too. Here, the character not only investigates the murders of a few of Chucky’s victims, his widowed mother just happens to be the Barclays’ neighbour down the hall. Hamill, too, brings his own take to Chucky, a role that was originally voiced by Brad Dourif (TV’s DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE). With Hamill’s childlike lilt, his Chucky has a deviousness that Dourif’s didn’t. His was just plain malevolent. That’s not to say that Dourif did not voice Chucky well but that Hamill’s Chucky has more personality.

Neither critics nor audiences have been overly impressed with this remake, with many of them preferring the original. I’m not in agreement with them and, judging from the audience who saw the film with me, they aren’t either. I thoroughly enjoyed this version even with its bumpy-ride ending. My advice is not to compare. Just go, grab some popcorn and enjoy it for what it is — delicious cheese.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, July 19th at 8:30 am HK time!

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