Review: Child’s Play
Buddi dolls are the latest craze, a mixture of Cabbage Patch Doll and a computerised personal assistant, ala Amazon’s Alexa. Single mother Aubrey Plaza buys a Buddi for her young son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Unfortunately, this Buddi (named Chucky, and voiced by Mark Hamill) has been sabotaged by a disgruntled fired employee of the manufacturer, who has taken out all of the doll’s safety precautions. The result? A malevolent little killing machine (literally) who starts offing anyone who dares cross little Andy, who is helpless to stop the carnage. In fact, everyone starts to suspect that it’s Andy behind all the mayhem. Brian Tyree Henry plays a neighbour cop, Tim Matheson plays the company CEO.
They remade my favourite horror movie “The Omen” and it didn’t turn out too bad, and now comes this 2019 remake of my second favourite horror film of all-time, Tom Holland’s 1988 killer doll/voodoo-practising serial killer flick “Child’s Play”. Directed by Lars Klevberg (whose background is mostly in short films) and scripted by Tyler Burton Smith (a short film and video game writer), this one’s…bad. Very, very bad. Borderline “Psycho” remake bad. Yeah. In fact, at times the film is so incredibly bad and cheap that one almost suspects the filmmakers were deliberately insulting the memory of the original film.
In theory, changing the nature of the doll to give it a technological upgrade isn’t an inherently bad idea. It needs to work, however. This A.I. version of Chucky is completely wrong-headed. The original idea of Chucky was tied into the targeted advertising of products to kids during their morning cartoons. It was a great, clever idea. Here the concept is that the doll (A product called ‘Buddi’, instead of a ‘Good Guy’, but the doll is still named Chucky) is a household helper with A.I., with its function as a child’s toy being somewhat secondary. So why in the hell was this kid given the Buddi as a present? It’s basically the maid from “The Jetsons”, not a toy doll. It’s an idiotic change that just doesn’t work, and to be honest the whole technology run amok theme was played out before the first “Child’s Play” came out let alone now, and giving it a more modern technology aesthetic doesn’t change how outdated it is thematically. Also idiotic, is that instead of the idea that Chucky contains the soul of a serial killer with a thing for voodoo practising, this Chucky is simply poorly coded by a pissed-off ex-employee who takes out all of the ‘safety protocols’ from the doll. Excuse me? Why would you create a doll/household appliance that needed safety protocols installed in the first place? That suggests its default setting is evil. How does that even make sense? Silly horror film or not, it still needs to have some internal logic. As for the look of the doll, it’s hideous and actually rather cheap-looking. It looks like barely an upgrade from one of the puppets from TV’s “The Thunderbirds”.
The film actually started off amusing me by how stupid it was, with goofy, off-kilter performances by a seemingly out-of-place Aubrey Plaza and especially Brian Tyree Henry. Plaza was amusing me because of how inappropriate she seemed to be cast as a single mother. There’s something naughty, seedy, and self-involved about her presence here that suggested initially that we were meant to find her funny because she seems so wrong for the part. After a while though, I stopped having fun because I thought about what it really meant: Ridiculing one of my favourite films, basically insulting its fans. Either that or the filmmakers mistakenly believe the original “Child’s Play” to be a terrible film, and are treating it as such. It was campy, sure. But bad? Hell no. It was clever, subversive (making fun of horror clichés a decade before “Scream”), reasonably scary, and funny without being a comedy. This remake is none of those things, it’s very shoddily done by people who don’t seem to be fans of the original at all. After initially being quirky fun, Henry abruptly turns into a competent and boring cop, and Plaza just comes across like she’s ironically standing to the side of her character and the film itself. That’s her schtick as an actress, and it’s wrong for the film, no matter how interesting it might’ve fleetingly seemed to me at the outset. It was sloppy and stupid from moment one, but for a while it was kind of entertainingly so. After 20 minutes however, I was bored and completely detached from the film because I had the filmmakers’ agenda worked out.
Although I had severe doubts going into the film, I was especially worried that the iconic Brad Dourif’s services as the voice of Chucky would be missed in this film. If you’re going to go in a different direction, I suppose it makes sense to recast the voice role, but those are some very big shoes to fill. When I heard that Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill was taking the reins, my fears were lessened ever-so slightly. Hamill has been doing voice acting for decades, most famously as the voice of The Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series”, as well as several related TV appearances and video games in that DC Comics franchise. Unfortunately, Hamill’s having a very off day here, with his feeble, unfunny, un-scary vocal performance. At times, Hamill’s weak, whiny, rather half-hearted performance comes across as a troll job on anyone who enjoyed the earlier “Chucky” films. I think the whole film has a bit of a trolling vibe to it, to be honest. As I said earlier, I don’t get the feeling that the filmmakers understand or respect the original film. Perhaps their connection is merely through the sillier, more comedic sequels.
Pure greed is the only reason to remake a film that already worked the first time. A bunch of sequels not withstanding, I don’t think there was much call for a successful film to be remade. I’m not sure many people regard the original quite as highly as I do, as it’s one of my all-time favourite films, let alone horror films. However, surely most of us can at least agree that the original delivered what it set out to for the type of film it was. So if you absolutely must take the greedy route of remaking “Child’s Play”, you’ve got to change it up, and make that change successful creatively, not just commercially. Whilst it’s admirable in theory that the filmmakers have made changes/updates to the original, every single one of the changes is wrongheaded. Bad acting, bad doll design, insultingly bad script, bad movie. It’s occasionally gory, but so what? The original didn’t need much in the way of overt violence or blood. Terrible.