Movie Review: “Child’s Play (2019)”

The first—and, with any luck, the last—remake of the ’80s slasher classic Child’s Play has left me somewhat split. On one hand, I want to praise it for at least trying to do something a little different in an era where so many remakes/reboots blandly copy what was laid out before them, but on the other, the “different” things this movie tries really just don’t work.

Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill here) is no longer an ordinary doll possessed by a psychotic serial killer, but a high-tech, non-possessed “Buddi”—read: “smart”—doll that can control many of the technological devices in someone’s home (and even those completely separate from it). The concept of this may sound interesting, but by completely removing all of the original franchise’s supernatural elements and trying to ground everything in reality, the end product ironically winds up being even less believable.

What could possibly be less believable than a dying serial killer using voodoo magic chants to put his soul in a “Good Guy” doll, then killing people while in said doll, you may ask? Well, in the opening scene of this movie, a disgruntled employee in a Vietnamese sweatshop is able to disable a Buddi doll’s “Violence” and “Language” safety features on what appears to be an administrators-only computer, all while still being at the exact same desk he’s assembling it at. And this alone not only makes it capable of evil, but also really, really strong for some reason. (I don’t know about you, but this whole moment had me doubled over with laughter because of how stupid and improbable it was—even by the standards of the other Child’s Play films I’ve seen thus far.)

Before revealing what happens next, though, let’s talk about the Buddi dolls’ designs. The reason Chucky was so surprisingly plausibleand, at first, even cutein the original Child’s Play was because the design of the Good Guy dolls was based off actual toys on the market around the ‘80s, some of which fell quite far into the “uncanny valley”. This Chucky (which the malfunctioned Buddi insists on calling itself on, because why wouldn’t it?), on the other hand, looks so over-the-top creepy that the thought of anybody wanting to actually buy such a thing for themselves—much less their own children—is just laughable.

But let’s move on. After glimpsing the same worker committing suicide by jumping onto a car in the place’s parking lot (in the trailers, this was inexplicably put in the middle of Chucky’s other murders, as if he’s somehow responsible for that too), we are then introduced to Andy Barclay. No, not the toddler in the original film who receives Chucky as a Christmas present, but a completely different 10-11-year old who, after a customer returns Chucky to his department-store-working mom (also a completely different character, but I’ll get to her later), receives him as a consolation gift since his family’s recent move has apparently been tough on him.

After Chucky imprints himself onto Andy by scanning his face with a bright laser, the two seem to get along quite well together… but when Andy makes an unpleasing remark about his cat in response to it scratching him, Chucky, in a misguided attempt to make the preteen “happy”, attempts to strangle it to death. With Andy not even that far away.

After he manages to get Chucky away from the poor feline, what does Andy do in response to this? No, he doesn’t immediately tell his mom about it (which, you know, any kid his age would naturally do), but just briefly lectures the metal plaything about how violence is wrong. Then Chucky starts approaching Andy and his newfound friends with a kitchen knife while they’re all watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (moral of the story: violent movies actually do make things violent!), and Andy pretty much reacts the same way. Even when Chucky finally does kill the previously mentioned pet, Andy just tearfully dispatches the body in his apartment building’s garage chute, then weakly lies to his mom about why it’s not with him anymore. I am not joking.

The only time Andy ever thinks to tell his mom about Chucky is towards the very end, when he’s completely out of anybody’s control. And of course, she doesn’t believe him (shocker!), throwing back typical “horror non-believer” one-liners like “Chucky is a toy.” Yeah, a highly technological smart toy that’s repeatedly violated its supposed profanity filters with you around, and even managed to break out of the glass cupboard that you put him in (which she bizarrely doesn’t even seem to notice). Do you not remember any of that?

In the original film, Andy’s very young age, combined with the fact that Chucky has no electronic bone in his body, made nobody believing his claims of the doll being murderous (which he made right after his first kill, in fact) far more plausible. Even when his mom finally discovers the truth and tries persuading others of it, it still makes sense that nobody would believe her, simply because they wouldn’t have any logical reason to. Here, Chucky is a very advanced tech device that, as I just said, has already shown blatant signs of being “off” (no pun intended) around her, so her not believing Andy’s claims just makes less and less sense.

I know, I know, I know. A lot of the people who see this movie aren’t really going to care about whether every single element of it is “plausible” or not. They’ll probably just want to see what the marketing was pushing at them: a contemporary hybrid of Chucky’s classic rampages and Black Mirror (with a dash of Stranger Things thrown in for good measure). Even on that level, though, it’s still pretty lame.

As you may have already seen in the aforementioned trailers, Chucky manages to kill some people by making a multitude of drones slice their necks open, which wouldn’t make any sense unless the blades were made out of steel or something. He also manages to electronically disable the airbag and seatbelt in somebody’s smart car (as if a smart car that can have its airbag and seatbelts disabled in that way would actually be on the market), and singlehandedly ties up somebody, tapes their hands behind their back, and puts a rope around their neck with apparently no trouble. For a toy of such small size, he’s one powerful little dude, and the movie never makes any effort of explaining why (or why his eyes suddenly turn red when he’s in “evil mode”*).

If Child’s Play had more (just barely) fresh or potentially frightening elements to it besides its basic concept, then perhaps I might be more willing to overlook the glaring issues and nitpicks I have with it. Unfortunately, when it’s not being ridiculous (and overly reliant on really cheap jumpscares—one of which is literally just Andy’s mom walking in front of the camera) beyond belief, the film more-or-less just follows a standard “monkey’s-paw” formula of Andy saying something bad about somebody who’s mean to him, then Chucky killing that particular person, then things predictably escalating more and more as the whole cycle repeats itself. Because we’ve never seen that before.

The fact that it tries to be a comedy at some parts doesn’t help matters at all, particularly since I didn’t find any of it to be funny. All right, I did almost chuckle when Andy’s mom makes her son deliver a “present” he’s trying to sneak by her (in reality, the skinned face of somebody Chucky just killed, which Andy put in layers of birthday wrapping paper just to get to the aforementioned garage chute unnoticed) to her neighbor, but that’s drowned out by how predictable—and utterly illogical—everything else is. Audrey Plaza (playing Andy’s mom, of all people) at least knows not to take herself too seriously, but she’s still less well-written than Andy’s mom in the original film, and ultimately doesn’t add much to the movie at all.

So overall, this new Child’s Play movie is just kind of a failure. I’m sure it’s far from the worst slasher remake you could be watching, but anybody not familiar with the original film is heavily advised to go see that instead. In fact, even if you are familiar with it, this shoddy reboot still isn’t really worth seeing, unless you want to see how soulless (again, no pun intended) and relentlessly dumb even Chucky, the master of toy-inspired terror, can be when placed in the wrong hands. It’s currently free on Amazon Prime, so at least you won’t have to spend any of your hard-earned money on it.

4/10

*By the way, the radio-controlled animatronics used for the original film’s Chucky actually manage to be more convincing than the obvious CG used here. When the new Chucky’s eyes do turn red, that effect in particular is so incredibly fake-looking that I couldn’t really believe it for one second. Not one.

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