In horror films, single moms just can’t catch a break, either their child is being possessed by demonic forces or being menaced by killer toys. It’s not fair, but there you have it. Back in 1988, Dan Mancini gave us one of the best films in this category, and it dealt with a kid’s toy being possessed by the soul of a serial killer — wonderfully voiced by Brad Dourif — but after seven films, it’s no surprise that Child’s Play became the next victim of the Hollywood reboot. So along comes Lars Klevberg, director of the incredibly forgettable horror film Polaroid, to update Chucky and friends. Sadly, this doll should have remained on the shelf.
Apparently, voodoo and serial killers have become passé, as this new Child’s Play is all about how your Google Home or Alexa could aid and abet your murder. The movie opens with a suicidal Vietnam sweatshop worker disabling all of the safety protocols for the Buddi doll he was working on — as one would do — and the doll eventually landing in the hands of Zed Mart employee Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) who gives the defective doll to her hearing-impaired son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). The kid is a lonely mess, so his mom thinks a semi-sentient robot friend is just the ticket (losing her asshole boyfriend (David Lewis) apparently not being an option), and before you can say “Friends to the End,” the doll is murdering pets and neighbors.
The serial killer backstory of the original is replaced by the standard evil A.I. trope, which doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre, but there you have it, and Chucky (Mark Hamill) isn’t evil from the outset, it just starts killing things it believes to be a threat to Andy’s happiness — think Talky Tina from Twilight Zone’s “The Living Doll” — and though at glance this seems like a decent enough premise, it is crippled by this version moving Andy’s age from six-years-old to pre-teen years. One can understand a small child treating Chucky like an imaginary friend, but in this film we have a twelve-year-old kid covering up the fact that his “confused” doll came at him with a knife and murdered their cat. How are we supposed to sympathize with a character who acts that stupidly? Even his friend Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) points out, “This is how every robot apocalypse starts out.” But it gets worse: Andy comes home from school to find the asshole boyfriend’s face nailed to a watermelon, which is damn horrifying, yet he and his friends decide that the best response to this situation is to wrap the head in birthday wrapping paper and smuggle it out of the apartment. It was by this point that I’d pretty much checked out of the movie.
The idea of a rogue A.I. doll connected to all your home’s smart devices is not a bad idea, but director Lars Klevberg doesn’t do much with this concept other than to have Chucky taunt Andy over Bluetooth speakers and smart television sets — with the murder of a woman with a self-driving smart car placing this movie well into the future — and though the kills themselves are wonderfully brutal, they often seem overcomplicated and silly in their execution. In the 70s, there was a film called Demon Seed, where Julie Christie was held captive by her Smart Home, which took the idea of rogue A.I. in the home in a much more interesting direction, while Klevberg decidedly does not. This film also takes pointed jabs at kids being glued to their phones and tablets, but then fails to go beyond “Hey, aren’t kids these days terrible?”
• The safety protocols for this toy include; Behaviour Safe Guards, Language Safe Guards, and Violence Inhibitors. I’m surprised this toy wasn’t given Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.”
• Chucky is a fully functional robot, one that not only can talk and learn, but it can walk around with no need to be possessed by Charles Lee Ray; how much would such a toy cost?
• Chucky joins the ranks of robots that have the “Red Eye Lights” so you can tell their evil.
• Chucky learns the joy of killing from watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Who says television isn’t educational?
• Karen’s boyfriend takes down Christmas lights while they are stilled turned on. So he’s an asshole and an idiot.
• Chucky is apparently powered by Tony Stark’s arc reactor technology.
• At a midnight launch of the new Buddi line, Chucky is able to control multiple dolls, but then during the final confrontation, he doesn’t bother with this awesome power anymore.
• The police response time to a department store massacre is shamefully slow.
• Mark Hamill does great as the voice of Chucky, though fans of the Batman Animated Series may get a strong Joker vibe from his performance towards the film’s climax.
I love me some ultraviolence in horror films, especially when done with practical effects and not glaringly bad CGI, and the blend of animatronics and CGI to create this film’s version of Chucky was well executed. However, this Child’s Play reboot failed to engage me due to my complete lack of empathy for any of the human characters — with the possible exception of the poor neighbour lady — and if you don’t care whether or not Andy and his mom survive Chucky’s attacks, the film is going to have a hard time creating suspense. Overall, we are left with a film that brings little new to the table, and aside from Mark Hamill’s vocal performance as Chucky, there are no characters to get behind.
Child’s Play (2019)
Movie Rank - 5/10
I can’t see this movie launching a new franchise, which the producers of this film are clearly praying for, as what we got here was an uneven attempt that didn’t bother to create engaging characters for us to root for. This Child’s Play has a few good moments, and Mark Hamill is fun, but it does come across as a tired reboot that would have been more fitting as a straight-to-video release.