CHILD’S PLAY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: LARS KLEVBERG / SCREENPLAY: TYLER BURTON SMITH / STARRING: AUBREY PLAZA, GABRIEL BATEMAN, MARK HAMILL, BRIAN TYREE HENRY / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 21ST
How unpredictable that, of all the great horror icons, Chucky the diminutive killer doll should be the last one standing. Peers Freddy, Jason, Michael and Leatherface have all seen their remakes come, go and retconned. Hell, even Leprechaun got in there first. Only Chucky and his Dark Passenger Charles Lee Ray remained, the original and only version of the character.
Until now. Serial killer Charles Lee Ray is exorcised from the equation in this remake, which hits the factory reset button and reboots Chucky as a piece of AI tech gone wrong. Child's Play 2019 is less Chucky, more Chappie, as the buggy doll with switched-off safety protocols begins to take its cues from a gang of idiot kids' cruel pranks and, uh, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
The broadest strokes of the story remain the same; sad loner Andy Barclay is gifted a fancy doll for his birthday, in lieu of friends or a father figure. Once taken into the family home, 'Chucky' quickly takes on a sinister pattern of behaviour, reaching for the knife drawer and Wifi codes. But this Chucky is an altogether creepier creation than his predecessor – not least due to his utterly hideous design – genuinely in love with Andy and determined to murder anyone who might stand in the way of their friendship. Like Robert Englund's Freddy, Brad Dourif is all but irreplaceable as Chucky, but Mark Hamill (!) gives it his best shot, and is a lot of fun as Chucky 2.0.
Aubrey Plaza, too, is a delight as Karen Barclay. The role remains a thankless one, but Plaza's younger, cooler, offbeat Manic Pixie Dream Mom is different enough to turn the dynamics around and make this Barclay household more than a simple rehash.
If anything, there are too many ideas at (child's) play here, with attempts at recapturing the kids-on-bikes magic of It and a setup that recalls a recent Black Mirror episode. The finale feels like a whole sequel tacked on to the ending of a different movie; going big and bombastic where something smaller and darker would have been more natural. Supporting characters aren't given enough time to breathe and the cathartic beats feel unearned and perfunctory. What should have been an intimate showdown between Chucky, Andy and Mom becomes an overblown, crowded mess with too many characters and no scares.
Regardless, this is a better film than it has any right to be. It's funnier and more inventive than anyone could have expected, with grisly and creative kill sequences on a par with some of the franchise's best. It's worth it for Hamill's juicy voice work alone, simpering his way through unsettling dialogue and snarling one-liners; crooning hilariously over the end credits. Frankly, Child's Play does not deserve Mark Hamill.
For this is a difficult film to like. Even beyond its modern contrivances, horrible doll designs and desperate playing for the Stranger Things crowd, it feels like a slap in the face to audiences who have been enjoying the real Chucky's recent adventures just fine. Even at its very best, it doesn't hold a candle to Curse of Chucky or Cult of Chucky. Don Mancini and Brad Dourif deserved better than this casual disrespect.
Child's Play is better than it should or could have been, but it's a soulless knock-off and a pale imitation of the real thing.