Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 1, 2019)
Usually movie reboots/remakes don’t pop up until a substantial amount of time after the prior releases. However, that doesn’t become the case with 2019’s Child’s Play.
The original film debuted in 1988 and spawned six sequels, the most recent of which arrived as a direct-to-video project in 2017.
This means the 2019 Play comes to us a mere two years after the original series’ last iteration. Granted, the franchise hadn’t seen a theatrical release since 2004’s Seed of Chucky, but it still feels odd to see a reboot so soon after the last chapter.
Whether or not this iteration spawns a new franchise seems questionable. The 2019 Play earned a mere $29 million in the US, which is actually less than the original made 31 years earlier.
Due to its low budget, the 2019 flick probably turned a profit, so additional chapters wouldn’t shock me. However, I can’t imagine the studio felt happy that the new Play couldn’t even outgross the mediocre-by-1988-standards haul of the original.
Kaslan Industries creates the “Buddi” doll, a high-tech toy that also acts as an interface to run a slew of Kaslan-made devices like TVs and appliances. A disgruntled employee reprograms one of them to lack the usual inhibitions, a factor that allows it the potential to behave independently.
Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) and her 13-year-old son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) recently moved to Chicago, and he finds it tough to make friends. To cheer up Andy, Karen acquires a “refurbished” Buddi and gives it to her kid.
The doll rechristens himself “Chucky” (voiced by Mark Hamill) and becomes best pals with Andy. However, Chucky takes it very personally whenever anything threatens the teen, and he develops violent tendencies.
Chucky also takes his role as Andy’s “friend to the end” seriously. When the boy starts to push away the doll, problems ensue.
Though not without weaknesses, the original Child’s Play worked pretty well, so this left the remake with fairly large shoes to fill. It doesn’t, as the 2019 version offers a sporadically involving affair but not a wholly satisfying endeavor.
On the positive side, I like the shift away from the supernatural origins Chucky enjoyed in the 1988 film. Not that I minded that “origin story”, but I feel happy that the 2019 edition comes up with an alternate explanation for the doll’s violent ways.
Of course, the way the Buddi dolls act as technical interface allows the film some social commentary, but don’t expect much from that. Our reliance on technology and the ways those components can go haywire acts as a backdrop that never quite comes to the fore.
That’s a bit of a disappointment, as Play boasts plenty of room to reflect on these domains. I’m glad it touches on the issues but it needs more oomph to let them become more than window-dressing. Despite the hints, we really don’t get insightful commentary.
On the negative side, Great Googly Moogly did they make Buddi ugly! Granted, the 1988 original looked a little creepy as well, but at least I could buy that kids would like and embrace that version of the character.
I can’t make that leap with the hideous Buddis. It seems unrealistic to believe that people would bond with these fugly little mofos, and I don’t know why the filmmakers chose such an unappealing design – how hard could it have been to come up with something more aesthetically pleasing?
A joint positive/negative relates to the movie’s rating. On one hand, I feel pleased the studio went with an “R”. Given the “kiddie friendly” nature of the Chucky character, it must’ve been tempting for MGM to deliver a “PG-13” product, so I’m glad they ignored that and opted for “R”.
On the other hand, the filmmakers may’ve pursued that “R” a little too eagerly, as Play brings a surprisingly gruesome product. While the 1988 film came with the requisite murders, it lacked the remake’s giddy embrace of graphic content.
When attacks occur, they often bring really nasty visuals. These may please genre fans, but I think they feel out of place for this franchise and become an active turn-off. This franchise appeals to a broader audience than much horror and the graphic nature of the material seems destined to alienate a lot of those potential viewers.
As for this viewer, the biggest issue comes less from the nasty violence and more from the semi-sluggish storytelling. The movie ambles along without a lot of urgency much of the time and relies on too many contrivances to make the plot work.
Matters improve in the fairly frantic third act, and that becomes the most enjoyable part of the flick. It suffers from plenty of head-scratching moments as well, but at least it threatens to fulfill the movie’s promise.
In terms of the actors, Hamill encounters the biggest challenge. Brad Dourif voiced Chucky in all seven prior films and he became a large factor in the franchise’s success, as his maniacal, devious performance gave the franchise its biggest calling card.
A noted voice actor, Hamill does fine, and he benefits from the ways the 2019 movie changes the Chucky character. In the original, a serial killer manages to magically transfer his soul into the Good Guys doll, whereas the 2019 flick’s Chucky is just a programming glitch.
This means Hamill doesn’t need to imitate Dourif, and that’s good. As talented as Hamill is, he deserves the chance to give the character his own imprint and not just emulate someone else’s work.
Hamill fails to make the same impression Dourif did, but I don’t blame the actor. The 2019 Chucky just isn’t as wild and impactful a character, so Hamill never gets the chance to wow us. That said, he offers a more than competent performance for the role as written.
Plaza seems like an odd choice as Andy’s mom, partly because she looks far too young to have a 13-year-old. The movie explains this but it still doesn’t really work.
Even though she was 34 during the shoot, Plaza seems much younger. She’d have made more sense as Andy’s older sister than as his mom.
Not that Plaza fits the role anyway, as the part doesn’t match her talents. Plaza fares best when her acerbic, darkly comedic side gets unleashed, and Play rarely allows this to happen. The film doesn’t do much with Karen, as it focuses heavily on Andy, so the miscast Plaza’s presence perplexes me.
Brian Tyree Henry makes more sense as the other main adult, Detective Mike Norris. He adds some charm to the part, and he probably gets more screen time than Plaza, which he uses pretty well. It’s still an underdeveloped character, but Henry gives the role a decent vibe.
As an aside, I must believe I’m not the only one who saw Trent Redekop as apartment building custodian Gabe and thought “Jack Black is in this movie?” Honestly, I didn’t figure out it wasn’t Black until a good hour into the film – Redekop really does strongly resemble him.
Actor-related confusion aside, the 2019 Child’s Play ends up as an inconsistent horror experience. With its mix of positives and negatives, it doesn’t bore, but it also doesn’t manage to bring much new life to the franchise.