Child’s Play (2019)
Horror remakes always face juggling on an impossible tightrope of expectation. Stick too close to the source material and people will wonder why the filmmakers even bothered. Deviate too far from the source and fans will be similarly vexed. In the past decade or so Michael Myers has been reimagined as a product of his abusive, white-trash upbringing, Jason Vorhees now has mad trapper skills and underground tunnels to get around Camp Crystal Lake, Freddy Kruger has added sexual predatory to his child murderer status, and through the black magic of cinema, The Fog became profoundly terrible.
Director, Lars Klevberg and writer, Tyler Burton Smith have an almost unique conundrum to solve with their reimagining of Child’s Play. Unlike most Horror franchises that are remade, Child’s Play required no resurrection. Franchise creator and director of the most recent three Chucky outings, Don Mancini is currently producing a sequel TV series to the original franchise, separate from this remake. Gone is Brad Dourif’s maniacal serial killer, Charles Lee Ray immortalised within a Good Guy doll via the power of ancient Voodoo. In this retelling, a Buddi doll (basically a smart doll that connects to your other household gadgets) is transformed into a killing machine after suffering a system failure. Picture Teddy Ruxpin by way of Short Circuit with a dash of Small Soldiers and Steve Norrington’s Death Machine.
One of the many strengths of the Child’s Play movies is the tonal balance of horror and humour. Child’s Play 2019 is no exception. The film chips merrily along, building to the murderous mischief. By the rules of Slasher lore, the movie goes a long way to show that the initial victims “deserve” their fate, which makes their eviscerations all the more satisfying. There’s a playfulness, evoking the later Mancini sequels that permits the audience to revel in the timely demise of Chucky’s victims, right up until the point where innocent people get hurt.
Another big switch-up from the original is that young Andy isn’t so young anymore. Part of the alchemy that made the original so impressive was that Alex Vincent who portrayed Andy was six years old. Gabriel Bateman (you may have seen him in a lesser, killer doll movie, Annabelle) delivers an older Andy in the reimagining. There’s a definite E.T. / Stranger Things / It vibe as Andy and his new friends face off against the murderous, malfunctioning Buddi doll. Bateman is great in the role, more than holding his own with (the ever-brilliant) Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry. I sincerely hope we see a lot more of him in years to come.
Bolstering the tone and aesthetics is Bear McCreary’s excellent score that utilises actual children’s toys to create a freakishly jaunty soundscape. Unlike the current swathe of quiet, quiet, BANG horrors, Child’s Play is still a Slasher with comedic elements. This is reflected within the movie’s motifs and infectious “friendship” song.
There are some aspects of this reimagining that may not sit well with fans of the original. The Chucky design itself isn’t the iconic, deranged Cabbage Patch Kid from the 1988 movie. Ultimately, this is a Buddi doll, not a Good Guy Doll. Very much like the remake as a whole, this is a different take on the concept. This isn’t a serial killer’s soul stuck in a cutesy dolly. This is a learning computer gone awry. An artificial intelligence that lacks inhibitions, who flouts Asimov’s First Law of Robotics and curses like a sailor. There is one scene that feels like a direct affront to the ignorance of the “Video Nasty” era of censorship that may seem a little on-the-nose but works within the context of this new Chucky’s origins.
With so many alterations to the original recipe you may ask yourself, “Why is this a Child’s Play movie and not its own thing”? This reimagining keeps a respectful distance to what has come before but is very much its own beast, and can totally be enjoyed as a separate thing, on its own terms. Has it tarnished the Don Mancini franchise in any way? Absolutely not. If anything, it reignited my interest in finally catching up with the latter sequels I’ve not seen. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for both versions of Chucky. While I’m stoked to see the Dourif and Tilly’centric TV series but also hoping we get a bunch of Hamill sequels too.
If there is such a thing as having, “Too much of a good thing”, we’re not there just yet!
Child’s Play hits cinemas Friday 21st
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