The new version of Child's Play examines man's relationship to modern technology, and the dark pitfalls of that relationship. Despite all the skepticism, the reboot actually has an interesting hook for this rebooted story - but despite starting off on a strong foot, the new version of killer doll Chucky doesn't have the battery life to power himself to satisfying climax.
The new version of the story follows Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), a teenage boy who moves to a seedy part of the city with his young single mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza). Andy has a hard time adjusting to his new life - and an even harder time adjusting to Karen's latest "boyfriend," Shane (David Lewis). Karen tries to boost Andy's spirits by taking advantage of her customer service job at "Zed-Mart," nabbing a new smart toy doll called "Buddi," which was returned for being defective. Andy quickly realizes that his Buddi doll, Chucky, isn't normal, as the doll has none of the usual behavioral and safety protocols that it should. Still, Andy likes the companionship and love that Chucky provides, and decides to cover for the dolls glitches and flaws. That bond lasts until Chucky learns a new way to secure his friendship with Andy: murdering anyone who upsets the boy. Once Chucky takes a sharp turn towards evil, it's up to Andy and his friends to stop the doll, before Chucky can inflict more death and mayhem upon their lives.
Directed by Lars Klevberg (Polaroid), Child's Play turns out to be an inspired re-imagining of the Chucky concept; but ironically, that same creative inspiration is ultimately dragged down by the film's obligations to the Child's Play brand. Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith clearly have keen interest in the sci-fi themes at the heart of this re-imagining, and the first two acts of Child's Play are a creepy and interesting Black Mirror-style parable about the dangers of over-relying on modern technology, with novel themes like it is the violence and corruption in humans that ultimately creates the violence and corruption in technology.
In this slow-burn buildup, the version of Chucky voiced by Star Wars icon Mark Hamill becomes a frightening and compelling central character, and would've been more notable as an original creation. As it stands, Hamill's version is missing the maniacal fun of original Chucky actor Brad Dourif, never really reaching the level of a memorable slasher-horror killer. It's not for lack of trying, though: this new Child's Play has plenty of gory kills, some executed (pun) in fun and creative ways, using Chucky's new ability to sync with other forms of technology. The third act goes for a big set piece of murder and mayhem in a mall, but ultimately falls completely flat, with an uninspired and boring sequence of over-the-top carnage that sheds all of the sci-fi intrigue leading up to it.
There's a similar problem in most of the character arcs in the film: Aubrey Plaza is woefully miscast as Andy's mother Karen, portraying a sardonic and outright trashy working class single mom caricature. Karen feels less like a heroine, and more like a bad mom who is destined for an intervention from Child Protective Services. Andy is similarly problematic, with the filmmakers showing clear confusion about how his arc should play out. Andy's hearing impairment is dangled as a major plot point, only to go nowhere; while his initial bonding and friendship with Chucky is interesting to watch, Andy's behavior and choices quickly jump the shark once Chucky starts his campaign of murder. Meanwhile, Shane is every 'evil stepfather' cliche you've ever seen, and it's only Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry, playing Andy's cop neighbor Mike, who seems to know how to build a likable character, bringing much-needed levity and nuance.
In the end, Child Play (2019) would've been better off as an original sci-fi/horror creation, and probably would've earned more acclaim on its own merits, rather than with the obvious cash-grab of attaching the Child's Play name. Still, its not the complete disaster that many predicted, and for horror fans there's enough here for a solid matinee viewing.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Child's Play is now in theaters. It is 1 hour 30 minutes long, and is Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language throughout.
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