20th Jun2019

‘Child’s Play’ Review (2019)

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, Marlon Kazadi, Ty Consiglio, Beatrice Kitsos, David Lewis, Anantjot S. Aneja | Written by Tyler Burton Smith | Directed by Lars Klevberg

Childs_Play_UK_Poster

This reboot / remake of 1988′s killer doll movie Child’s Play is in an unusual position because the original franchise is still continuing under creator Don Mancini. Although they now go straight to DVD, the previous Chucky film (Cult of Chucky) was released as recently as 2017, but a complex rights issue means that a rival studio retains the rights to the property, meaning the franchise has effectively branched into two. (A similar thing happened with the Puppet Master franchise recently, with the release of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich). Needless to say, there’s a certain amount of controversy surrounding the new reboot’s release and fans of the franchise are already up in arms. However, though die-hard fans may choose to boycott, this is a serviceable reboot that could well end up earning Chucky a whole new fanbase.

The reboot gives Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamil, replacing Brad Dourif) two important modern day upgrades. Firstly, it makes him look a lot less terrifying, so you just about believe that somebody might actually want to play with him in the first place. And secondly, they give him a number of new attributes, such as the ability to connect to other household appliances (like a deadly Alexa) and a learning capability that occurs when he “imprints” on his new owner.

That new owner in this case is 14 year old Andy Barclay, a hearing-impaired teenager who lives with his single mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza). When Karen brings home a defective Chucky doll (who’s had his safety circuits removed by a disgruntled employee), Andy is soon won over by his new toy’s capabilities. However, it isn’t long before he realises something is seriously wrong with Chucky – i.e. his tendency to murder anyone he thinks has upset Andy – so he turns to a new group of friends (including Marlon Kazadi, Ty Consiglio and Beatrice Kitsos) for help.

Mark Hamil is a logical choice for the voice of New Chucky, given his excellent voice work on The Joker in various animated DC projects. Accordingly, he’s on fine form here, staying more or less faithful to the original version, without going too far over-the-top. If anything, he underplays it, which actually works surprisingly well.

The human performances are equally solid. Bateman makes a sympathetic and likeable lead and there are strong supporting turns from Consiglio and Kitsos (as oddly named pair Falyn and Pugg) in particular. Plaza is fine, but it’s hard not to feel that she’s a little wasted by the script, which lands her with a generic “Mom” role and gives her very little to do outside of that. (Curiously, her interactions with Chucky are kept to a bare minimum).

When it comes to the scary stuff, director Lars Klevberg clearly knows how to orchestrate a decent death scene, no matter how ridiculous (there’s a bit with a table saw that will have your eyes rolling). Similarly, the gore effects are nicely handled, with enough grisly invention to keep horror fans happy (most notably in scene involving some a lawnmower and some Christmas lights).

That said, this Child’s Play never fully exploits Chucky’s Alexa-like abilities to their fullest potential, outside of a scene involving some drones. The potential was there for a full-on cautionary tale about letting technology control our lives, but the script largely ignores that opportunity, despite making a big deal of it upfront.

Similarly, though it starts strongly, the pacing and editing become increasingly chaotic as the film continues, with an attendant loss of narrative coherence. (Not that one should really expect logic in a film about a killer talking doll).

Ultimately, this new version of Child’s Play is unlikely to convert fans of the original franchise, but it’s enjoyable enough on its own terms. As to whether it will kick-start a franchise of its own, that remains to be seen.

*** 3/5

Child’s Play is released in cinemas tomorrow, June 21st.

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