Child’s Play (2019) Movie Review – All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye!
If you’re a horror film fan, then you have seen not only the original Child’s Play from 1988 but all six of its sequels—probably multiple times. Even if you’re not one for the dismembering dolly who harbors the hell-bound heart of a serial killer, you know who Chucky is. The mouthy murderer (voiced by the incomparable Brad Dourif) is woven into the fabric of our pop culture. The fact that he’s an icon is due in large part to “Chucky’s dad” Don Mancini, the screenwriter, and director who created him and has kept him alive for 30+ years.
As is the case with most slasher franchises, the first film is serious and scary with only touches of humor. As the villain becomes more familiar he, in turn, becomes funnier. It happened with Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees, and certainly with Chucky—though Chucky’s subsequent flicks were also imbued with cheeky sociopolitical commentary and food for thought. They may not have been as scary as horror fans hoped, but they were always clever and well-made. The Child’s Play reboot is well-made, but not clever (Mancini not only has nothing to do with this 2019 incarnation, but he’s also disavowed it).
The film begins with a glossy, stark-white Apple-like commercial for the Buddi (with a wifi symbol over the i) hosted by the CEO of the soulless conglomerate that makes it: Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson). It then segues into the Philippines sweatshop where the dolls are churned out. Something bad happens, and one item is shipped out with his wiring crossed. Eventually, that misfit toy makes its way into the hands of 12-year-old Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman). Andy’s slovenly single mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza) helps him connect and set up Buddi—who quickly changes his own name to Chucky—but then turns her attention back to her dead-end job and her deadbeat boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis). Left to their own devices, Andy and Chucky start some trouble. But Chucky isn’t just a plaything, he’s a smart-doll—like a redheaded, evil Alexa he sees and hears all—and pretty soon he’s got a murderous mind of his own.
The film looks slick and the acting is above-par, so one can’t blame the director (newcomer Lars Klevberg) for the unlikable and often annoying characters. (And not annoying in a “can’t wait to see them die” kind of way.) Chucky himself is too sinister-looking right off the bat, and Mark Hamill’s voicing of him is fine but lacks flair. Andy is just not young enough for his actions to be believable here—the story of a boy and his doll was better when the kid wasn’t a week away from his 13th birthday. First-time feature screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith did a good job setting the stage for mayhem and there are cool kills, but some of his dialogue is surprisingly out of touch. For instance, the black characters in the film talk about watermelon and Tupac’s killing and are the only ones to use the go-to expletive “motherf**ker.” I was literally shaking my head while watching the film, wondering how those things got past the committee of producers and studio heads.
Child’s Play is not terrible, but I was hoping for something with more dread and suspense. If you’re just looking for a creepy, knife-wielding doll movie to hold you over until Annabelle Comes Home is released next week, then Child’s Play is a passable enough diversion.