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John’s Horror Corner: Child’s Play (2019), the fun reboot of the 1988 classic evil doll franchise that we deserve!

September 28, 2019

MY CALL: This is so much better than we deserve in an era saturated with phoned-in remakes. I loved it. And if you’re worried about the new approach to Chucky’s psychopathy—stop worrying and just give it a chance. MOVIES LIKE Child’s Play: The other Chucky movies most worth watching are Child’s Play (1988), Child’s Play 2 (1990), and then I might skip all the way to Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017)—not that I didn’t enjoy them all to some degree. Other quality evil doll films include The Boy (2016), Annabelle: Creation (2017), Dolly Dearest (1991), Dolls (1987) and Puppet Master (1989).

Director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) steps up to helm the 8th Child’s Play feature film to reboot the 7-film run that stemmed from Tom Holland’s (Fright Night, Tales from the Crypt, Thinner, The Temp) magnificent original. Now 30 years later, our Good Guy doll has advanced along with our technology and, for the sake of edgier content, we’ve also made Andy a bit older.

Young Andy from 1988

Karen (Aubrey Plaza; Life After Beth, Legion) gives her 13-year-old son (Gabriel Bateman; Annabelle, Lights Out) a Buddi doll for his birthday, only to discover this doll has a few… manufacturer defects.

The Buddi doll is like a SmartHub meets Siri crossed by BlueTooth and basic artificial intelligence to make daily life easier for all members of the family. And to make Buddi more contemporized, we’ve removed the voodoo possession of the 80s serial killer and made him the product of a disgruntled employee in an abusive Vietnamese factory workplace who removes all safety protocols from the doll’s programming. Yup, we’ve removed Asimov’s laws of robotics (i.e., really laws of AI ethics) to not harm humans and the like. Dear lord… it’s like SkyNet just went live in your own home in the form of a smiling doll with an eerily friendly disposition. And what voice actor could better stand up to the legendary Brad Dourif (The Hazing, Dune, Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky) but Mark Hamill (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance)? Watching Chucky learn was kind of cute—in that troped-up naïve-to-the-world way.

Also a big jump from the other movies is that this Chucky doll walks around as part of its normal product function. So being seen moving on its own isn’t a red flag for a killer doll anymore. It brings about a more feisty than malevolent tone at first. Another big change is that this Chucky’s murderous behavior originally stems from good intentions. Sure he strangles a cat… but he thought he was protecting Andy. Chucky is kind of sweet, so we feel badly when he violently errs. But when Chucky sees Andy and friends laughing at the murderous gore of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) on TV… that’s when we know Chucky is taking a dark turn. Chucky goes from sympathetic to way creepy on a frighteningly credible trajectory.

The plot-point writing is a bit clunky (e.g., it took me half the movie to figure out if Plaza’s boyfriend lived with them or not), but the execution still lands entertainingly well, especially when delivered with Aubrey Plaza’s lines or her great interactions with Gabriel Bateman. Their mother-son dynamic feels sincere, congenial, and credibly contemporary. And their neighbor’s friendly son, Detective Norris (Brian Tyree Henry; Hotel Artemis, Godzilla vs Kong), brings poorly-dialogued yet still pleasant levity.

And blood…? Yup, there’s a lot of that. The double through-the-skin leg break scene was gleefully shocking with some mean imagery, a soil tiller rips up a guy’s head, a fleshy face is removed from its skull for decorative effect, there’s a sloppy buzzsaw to the crotch (we see it coming, but it’s really fun), blood gushes into people’s faces and, of course, lots of stabbing. The violence is messy, the death scenes will please gore-hounds, and a lot of humor is delivered with the violence and horror.

In tone, this film finds a middle ground in the franchise. It’s not as zany as Bride of- or Seed of- or Cult of Chucky (2017), it’s definitely not as mean-spirited as its predecessors either, but there is less “restraint” or mystique than in Child’s Play (1988) or Curse of Chucky (2013). The key word for this movie is “fun.” We laugh and smile and giggle frequently. I’d call it the Final Destination 5 (2011) of the Chucky brand.

The direction was really impressive and cultivated high-level thrill-ride shock value to the attacks, scares and violence. This movie is way more impressive than I expected and maybe even more than it deserved to be. I feared that an AI Chucky doll (as opposed to possessed by a psychopath) would be a dull modernization playing on color-by-numbers tropes. However, I don’t think I disliked anything about this. Rather… I kind of loved this! Please make a sequel.

REMAKE/REIMAGINING SIDEBAR: For more horror remakes, I strongly favor the following: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), The Mummy (1999), The Ring (2002), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Friday the 13th (2009), Let Me In (2010), Evil Dead (2013), Carrie (2013), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), It (2017) and Suspiria (2018). Those to avoid include The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Poltergeist (2015), Cabin Fever (2016), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Night of the Demons (2009), Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), War of the Worlds (2005) and The Mummy (2017). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Halloween (2007), It’s Alive (2009), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Fright Night (2011), Maniac (2012) and Pet Sematary (2019), which range from bad to so-so (as remakes in my opinion) but still are entertaining movies on their own.

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