Throughout the 80’s there where countless horror franchises, yet few had the staying power of Child’s Play. Yes, it was campy and often, ridiculous, but somehow it became an iconic horror film, enjoyed by countless fans. It managed the impossible: it made a killer doll movie, and made it (somewhat) stand the test of time. Now the producers of the 2018 It are trying to revive this classic franchise, only this time updating things, making it fit the modern generation and adding a healthy dose of Mark Hammil to bring his voice acting chops to the iconic Chucky doll. While not everything works, the end results are enjoyable, if not dumb fun.
Child’s Play, when it entered cinemas back in 1988, had a lot of unique ideas. The voice of Brad Dourif perfectly captured the ominous doll, the blatant consumerism fit the time period and, in the age of the slasher, Chucky managed to be a bit of fresh air. Now over 30 years later, things need to be updated. In the era of Alexa and Google Home, gone is the familiar voodoo backstory that brought Chucky to life. This time around, it is replaced with voice assistance, smart homes, AI, and disgruntled factory line employees. It is a welcome update for the franchise, and for the most part works well with the setting, characters, and the overall sense of place in the film.
Taking place in a modern setting in Anytown America, the Kaskan Corporation replaces the Apples, Googles, and Amazons of the world. With everything connected to the cloud, you need a toy that links your physical world with to the electronics around you. This is where Buddi comes into play. Voiced by Mark Hamill, these toys are built to connect your digital life and be your best friend. When Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) manages to get one of these toys for her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), little does she know it has been altered by a disgruntled factory line employee, with devastating results..
First and foremost, the special effects at work for Chucky are shockingly well done. The uncanny valley world the Buddi doll lives in works wonders to not only place it in a potential reality but also work well to craft a sense of unease and dread throughout the film. From the first minute that Buddi is shown on screen, a sense something is not right with these dolls is ever present. It is also great to see so much of the effect work done practically. It gives the film a sense of realism, even if the premise is often times ridiculous.
Mark Hamill brings the level of voice talent we have to know him for post Star Wars. His delivery has a sense of dread all the while maintaining that feeling of whimsy and wonder, done only the way Mark Hamill can. If I had any criticisms of his performance within Child’s Play, it would be that once Chucky goes evil as it where his performance delves dangerously close to just reprising his iconic Joker role from the classic 1990’s Batman the Animated Series. And even then, only if you had grown up with that character would the comparisons be drawn.
The rest of the cast does well with the material they are given Aubrey Plaza, plays an effective young mother, while the kids, most notably Gabriel Bateman, steal the show for me as he manages a wide range for such a young actor, especially as the world around him starts crumbling down due to the antics of Chucky.
For slasher fans out there, the kill count may not be high, but Chucky manages some truly horrific attacks on anyone he feels is standing between him and Andy. From tilling machines to table saws and smart home devices, the filmmakers manage to use the setting well to paint a world of smart devices as truly terrifying in the wrong hands.
Much like 2018’s It, Child’s Play blends tones as it balances on the knife edge between serious dread and brevity. For the most part, it manages it, giving moments of fun between brutal violence and horror as the characters slowly work to sort out what is really going on around them. Sadly, it does not always manage this balancing act, with some scenes feeling a bit out of place or hitting the wrong tone and failing to really make a moment affect the audience. Oddly timed jokes, and one-liners, while working in the original 1988 film, at times felt out of place given the setting and tone the filmmakers are trying to create.
While the story does what it needs too, you won’t find much beyond the surface with this script. There are some good lines, and the actors do well with what they are given, but it basically works as a way to get characters doing what they need to push the action forward. It does have some solid nods to the original movie and does a serviceable job updating it, but sadly it never goes far beyond this goal. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Oscar winning storytelling here — and what is on screen works — but given the setting and concept, with a few tweaks it could have pushed the envelope a bit further making for an overall more exciting watch. It dances close to saying something meaningful but shies away leaving an generally inconsistent and relatively unsatisfying conclusion.
But ultimately the question becomes this: have the filmmakers managed to revive Child’s Play for a new generation? For the most part, they hit the marks they needed to and at the very least, revived the feeling of the original source material. While not everything lands and the story is paper thin at times, what does work is a fun watch. While it won’t set the world on fire, and it most definitely does not need a sequel, this new outing in Child’s Play is well worth a watch for fans of the franchise or just horror in general.