Main cast: Gabriel Bateman (Andy Barclay), Mark Hamill (Chucky), Aubrey Plaza (Karen Barclay), Brian Tyree Henry (Detective Mike Norris), Tim Matheson (Henry Kaslan), Marlon Kazadi (Omar), Beatrice Kitsos (Falyn), Ty Consiglio (Pugg), Anantjot S Aneja (Chris), David Lewis (Shane), and Carlease Burke (Doreen Norris)
Director: Lars Klevberg
It’s almost a shame that Child’s Play is saddled with the baggage of being a… what is it, a remake or a reboot of the 1988 film of the same? This is because this particular movie has little in common with the original film, aside from a killer doll running around. In fact, the doll’s brand name is Buddi, and the way the doll is called Chucky here is a cringe-inducing contrivance introduced solely to tie it to the original. Had it been a standalone flick featuring Buddi the Doll AI gone amok, this one would have been a clear knockout right out of the gate.
Kaslan Corporation is the cutting-edge company specializing in all kinds of cool stuff. For the family, it has launched the Buddi doll, an AI-controlled thing linked to a cloud system so that it can learn. It can be imprinted on a child to be the child’s best friend, nanny, stand-in parent, and more. It is also connected to all other Kaslan electronic devices in and out of the house, so it can also control various household devices, order a remote-controlled Kaslan cab, and more. Buddi is the perfect nanny, slave, and more for every family!
Only, like most tech companies in America, Kaslan exploits third world countries for cheap labor. Hence, in a sweatshop Vietnam – not China, nobody in Hollywood wants to offend China these days, even if it makes more sense to set bad things to happen in China – a depressed employee experiences his final straw and sabotages the Buddi doll he is working on. He deletes all restrictions in that doll, packs it up, and then commits suicide. What an edgelord.
Over in the US, let’s meet Andy Barclay and his mother Karen. Andy is about thirteen or so and needs a listening aide. Since the death of his father, he hasn’t been quite the same: seeing his mother go in and out of unhappy relationships and his hearing disability make him a loner unable to get along with other kids. Karen only recently moved them to this part of town, hoping that a change of scenery will make Andy feel better, but her son is clearly unable to get along with her latest boyfriend Shane. While she hopes that Shane is Mr Right, he thinks that Shane is just the latest in the line of assholes taking advantage of his mother’s emotional vulnerability, and he’s actually right.
Chucky comes into the picture when someone makes a return at the store where Karen works, claiming that the doll is likely broken because the eyes turn red. Not to mention, the next line of Buddi doll is around the corner – complete with darker skinned and teddy bear versions! – so this particular Buddi isn’t in demand much at the moment. With Andy’s birthday around the corner, Karen decides to grab this one for her son.
Yes, you guessed it, this doll happens to be the one sabotaged by the now-dead Vietnamese edgelord. At first, Andy is unnerved by the doll – who calls itself Chucky – because, seriously, look at that thing and it has the Joker’s voice. However, he and Chucky soon bonds, and he even meets and befriends other kids Falyn and Pugg, who in turn introduce him to a few other kids. The problem arises when Chucky witnesses them enjoying the gory scenes in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and decides that this form of violence is something his BFF Andy enjoys and hence, it’s something he should do more to keep Andy happy. If that’s not bad enough, he also decides to take out people that hurt Andy emotionally (Shane) and physically (the family cat), and it’s downhill from there as he soon decides that he should also eliminate people who stand in the way of him being Andy’s ultimate BFF. That includes his friends, the mother…
Child’s Play has the fundamentals of horror done almost entirely perfectly. The pacing is top notch. Sure, it has jump scares now and then, but these are well earned ones with proper build up and context – they aren’t the cheap, liberally and gratuitously dished out crap like those in the brain damage Conjuring universe nonsense. Furthermore, it has the right blend of macabre humor and violence without one overpowering the another – well, most of the time, but I’ll get into that later. This movie even breaks some rules – some of Chucky’s victims are the ones normally have plot armors in other horror films, and that these victims get to enjoy truly gruesome deaths is only icing on the cake. Oh yes, the death scenes here are gruesome, without coming off too much like fake CGI in action.
Mark Hamill is excellent as Chucky – he captures just the right amount of creepiness in his voice without going too much over the top. To be fair, though, he can do this while asleep after his stint as The Joker, so this is par for the course. Most of the other cast members are solid too. Gabriel Bateman plays his role like a natural kid instead of some self-conscious kid actor, and the script allows Andy to be a realistic, angst-bogged kid instead of trying too hard to make him cute or likable. Andy and the other kids have a realistic teenage camaraderie too – one moment, they hate one another, they even punch one another now and then, but the next moment, they get together again because kids will be kids. The fact that these kids feel real often only make the threat on their lives ten times more terrifying. Karen is also a sympathetic character, as she’s not perfect, but she’s trying her best.
Even the killer doll concept is a somewhat… understandable, if I am making sense here. Chucky is the product of his environment. He is the concept of a child learning the wrong things taken to the extreme, with Andy being the messed-up, bipolar parent that only reinforces the negative in that doll.
The only negative I have – and it’s a pretty jarring one that pulls me out of the movie every time – is Detective Mike Norris. This is a one-man one-liner machine that stands out like a sore thumb among the other, more human main characters here. I don’t mind his character, but this is one fellow that will fit in better in a more overtly comedic movie. Here, he is just out of place and I get tonal whiplash every time he is in the scene.
At the end of the day, sure, you can argue that this isn’t a Chucky movie, and it’s yet another rehash that doesn’t seem to respect its source material at all. However, this Child’s Play is a very well-made movie that understands what makes horror work, delivering both scares and humor with aplomb. I’d suggest watching this one as a standalone film with nothing to do with the original series, and it’d be much more enjoyable as a result.