It’s a great time to be a nostalgia-junkie. This weekend, Hollywood’s most iconic toys descend upon cinemas. For many, the easy choice will be to fill Pixar’s pockets and opt for the return of Woody and Buzz in Toy Story 4. But for genre junkies, the decision will take them into Orion’s refurbished world of Child’s Play, the controversial reboot to the much beloved (and ongoing) film franchise (and upcoming television series) from Don Mancini.
I’ll admit, I’ve been trepidatiously following the Child’s Play re-imaging from the beginning. It’s been a roller coaster conflicting emotions for fans when the buzz – both good and bad – for 2019’s Childs Play grew. Mark Hamill voicing Chucky. Don Mancini not happy. When it finally came to purchasing my ticket, I was as apprehensive as when the news of the reboot had first dropped. Was I going to love it? Hate it? Could I swallow my sour grapes?
Turns out – Buddi has a new story to tell and an updated angle for which to tell it. There’s no voodoo, no serial killer’s seeking vengeance, and the maniacal Good Guy (expertly voiced by Brad Dourif) can still shine as our favorite pint-sized serial killer. Buddi isn’t looking to become Andi. Buddi just wants to be friends.
Directed by Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) and written by Tyler Burton Smith, the premise for Child’s Play is a familiar one. Single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza, Life After Beth) wants to get a great birthday present for her son Andy ‘Baby Driver‘ Barclay (Gabriel Bateman, Light’s Out). But, things are different this time around. We’ll get a chance to fall in love and believe these characters because there isn’t a serial killer out to get us. There’s a doll, gifted to a lonely boy who needs a friend. What a fresh take!
Aubrey Plaza breathes youth and sharp charm into the role, steering this film into character-driven realism. I believe the apartment they live in — with graffiti sprayed outside and cupboards coated in 16 layers of cheap paint. I believe the come-and-go boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), treating everyone like dirt. I believe Karen would take a returned Buddi doll in less-than-stellar shape from work to give to her son as an early present.
Of course, before our Buddi doll names himself Chucky, audiences already know what they’re in for. We watch a disgruntled worker in Vietnam turn off all of the doll’s safety features and parental controls. Chucky comes uncensored and ready to set off an extended episode of Black Mirror with the wink of a red, glowing eye.
But Chucky isn’t evil. In fact — at first — he’s great for Andy. Chucky is slightly defective. He jitters and jumps, and doesn’t always connect properly. Also, he swears – which is a big no-no for Buddi’s. But Andy is only happy to keep Chucky’s secret, because partially deaf and wearing a hearing aid, he knows what it’s like to be different from others. Even though “defective”, Chucky cares for and provides an outlet for Andy. Someone to talk to and share his thirteen-year-old troubles with. Chucky’s biggest want in the world is for Andy to be happy. But Chucky just doesn’t know when to stop loving Andy. And that’s where Chucky finds his edge.
On top of an updated story, Child’s Play succeeds on all fronts with atmosphere. The cinematography and lighting team executed a concrete vision, that can be picked and plucked through freezeframes of nearly every scene. Lighting cascades through swirling industrial fans, primary-colored gel lighting promises toys on the fritz in darkened corners, and soupy black shadows hide red, watchful eyes after bedtime. And the sound. Creating a hybrid company that encompasses Google, Amazon, Uber, Tesla, Roomba, (and probably more), Chucky is plugged in like a futuristic ventriloquist, able to throw his voice around the room. The TV, the thermostat, the vacuum, the taxicab. With Andy “plugged in” by his hearing aid, Chucky is even able to whisper just to Andy from across the room. Tell me that’s not chilling.
And I haven’t even gotten to the slasher elements yet. Because of Child’s Play’s unique approach to creating a lovable and caring new Chucky, it takes a while for our Buddi doll to pick up the knife. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, your switch will be stuck on ADORABLE MODE throughout – but once Chucky starts disposing of the people getting in the way of him and his BFF, all hell breaks loose. I won’t spoil the kills, but know that they are gory, gross, and written with a horror audience in mind. Like the Final Destination franchise, each kill-sequence is self-aware of every lethal element in the scene, and isn’t afraid to toy with your expectations. You’ll be guessing, hooting, and hollering at each of Child’s Play’s kill sequences, wondering what Chucky’s up to, and how it’ll all finally go down.
“Like the Final Destination franchise, each kill-sequence is self-aware of every lethal element in the scene, and isn’t afraid to toy with your expectations.”
Child’s Play also succeeds at creating a world of living, breathing characters around Andy and Chucky. This movie is quite small, but Child’s Play takes time and care in making the universe feel fleshed out, even if we’re only hanging with the neighbour and his mom, or the kids down the block. Speaking of, Detective Mike (Brian Tyree Henry), whose mom lives across from the Barclays, is an absolute gem in this movie. His self-deprecating humour lands every time, and I’m almost sad whenever our characters walk through the apartment hallway and don’t bump into him. And Andy’s new friends, — his human friends — are wonderful too, particularly archetype defying city kids Pugg (Ty Consiglio) and Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos).
Overall, Child’s Play is a wonderful retelling of a beloved franchise — utilizing all the tools on the original Good Guy Box. This Chucky really does just want to be “your friend ’till the end”, and Child’s Play (2019) proves that can be just as terrifying as a hellbent serial killer.