Released: 20th June
Seen: 20th June
In 1988, a horror icon was born. Poking fun at the popularity of Cabbage Patch Dolls, Child’s Play showed us what would happen if one of those cherubic collectable toys ended up being possessed by a vicious serial killer who needed to put his soul into the body of a young child. The film was a box office success, pulling in around $44 million worldwide on a budget of only $9million. It spawned four theatrically released sequels and two VOD releases with the most recent one, Cult of Chucky, getting released two years ago. There’s also a TV series coming out on Syfy next year that’s currently being called Chucky and will bring back the legendary serial killing doll. It’s a series that has a loyal fan base who have followed the series from day one and it’s easily in my top 5 favourite horror franchises. I enjoy the series so much that I have even defended the much-maligned Seed of Chucky, which I still feel is an underrated gem that just happened to come out at the exact wrong time. Basically, the franchise is pretty much perfect as it is and doesn’t need a remake… but thanks to some fun legalese where the Child’s Play name isn’t owned by the creators of the franchise (because intellectual property law is fun and not at all pointlessly convoluted), MGM didn’t need to get permission to reboot the franchise that’s still alive and kicking and so now here we are with Child’s Play (2019)… because remakes of classic 80’s slashers never go horribly wrong, except for every single time they remake a classic 80’s slasher.
Child’s Play (2019) follows Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), a deaf child who has moved into a new home with his mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and her fiancé Shane (David Lewis). To try and help Andy adjust to the new home, Karen gets Andy a present from her work. She brings home a refurbished Buddi doll, an internet-connected doll that can walk, talk and do all kinds of cool things… including murder. It turns out that the Buddi doll, who has named himself Chucky (Mark Hamill), has a malfunction that makes him determined to not only be Andy’s best friend but be Andy’s only friend. It’s boy vs. machine in a battle of wits and sharp implements that can only end when the credits roll and I get out of there and try to look for my copy of the original Child’s Play franchise so I can actually experience something resembling a scare.
Hollywood, hear my plea. For the love of god, stop remaking classic 80’s horror movies. You are not good at it, you do not seem to get what made those original classic movies work. Seriously, can anyone name a single remake of an 80’s horror film that’s even half as good as the original? Because all I’m coming up with is Maniac, Piranha 3D and Town that Dreaded Sundown would be close but other than that, every horror remake I can think of just falls flat because they just do not understand what made the original work and that problem is evident in Child’s Play (2019). The original film is more of a mystery for the first half of the movie, you spend almost 40 minutes questioning if Andy is the one doing all the murder and it’s not confirmed that Chucky is the one doing everything until several people are dead, Andy’s locked up in a psychiatric hospital and his mother finds the batteries that should’ve been making Chucky function are still in their original plastic wrapping. It’s incredibly well thought out and the tension builds because it’s completely believable that Andy could be responsible. Here? There’s none of that tension. For starters Chucky is about half the size of Andy, Andy being 14 instead of 6 removes the ability for them to pretend its Andy doing anything. Besides that, there’s also the shot where they just flat out show us Chucky murdering a cat and displaying violence to people from pretty much the beginning. He’s walking, he’s talking, therefore there’s no real potential that he’s going to scare me when he walks and talks later on. I don’t ever wonder “Oh, how did Chucky get there” because he walked, I know it, I saw him do it a minute ago so there’s nothing scary about that character, except for Mark Hamill’s voice which is creepy enough that it works. He’s nowhere near as good as Brad Dourif was, but he’s fine.
The other major problem is that they tried to make things a bit more realistic by making the killer doll evil because he was programmed that way. The first scene of the movie shows a factory in Vietnam where the dolls are being made by people in a sweatshop and when one of the workers is fired, he goes into the programming of the doll he’s working on and edits it to remove all the safety restraints… because apparently when you code a toy you code in violence, swearing and other awful things but then put a filter over them so they’re always under the surface. It’s a really stupid way to make the doll kill people and pulled me right out of the film. See, I could buy “Oh, a serial killer possessed the doll” because that was voodoo and it’s incredibly easy to shrug off any concerns with logic since you can just say “Hey, it’s magic, what are you going to do?” and be done with it. When the issue is that the doll is programmed to do this, it removes a bunch more tension. That’s not supernatural, it’s a toy that could be beaten with a swift kick in the face. It also removes any semblance of a personality, which Chucky is kind of known for. They basically took one of the most playfully evil horror villains of all time and turned it into the Krusty Doll from The Simpsons that accidentally got switched to evil and it’s just not that interesting anymore. I don’t really care about a poorly programmed robot that, for the record, is so ugly that literally no one would buy it for any reason other than to terrify people they don’t like. I actually believed that someone might buy their kid a Good Guy doll, but no one would give their child a Buddi doll unless they were the kind of parent who locks their kids in cupboards under stairs.
The actual kills in the movie are pretty good though, I will give the film some praise there. While there isn’t anything here that will be as iconic, there are some interesting ideas. The high point is a self-driving car being controlled by Chucky over the internet, a scene that feels plausible with the reality of self-driving cars getting ever closer. There’s also a big scene where Chucky basically turns an entire department store into a weapon and controls everything in it since every product is internet connected. These moments are actually kind of cool and present an alternate way that this could go, but it never goes all the way there. It basically borrowed an idea from Cult of Chucky that suggested Chucky could be in multiple places at once but while Cult used that idea for some hilarious and terrifying scenes, this remake uses it minimally and doesn’t do anything special with it. Maybe they’re saving that for the sequel they hope to be able to do if this film makes enough money, but I shouldn’t have to wait until the sequel for you to do something special with your idea. But then again, so many ideas in this film only go halfway that it feels like it’s their aesthetic.
Just what ideas only go halfway? Well, things like the main character’s deafness which is there because of nothing. The actor himself isn’t deaf, they never do anything interesting with the deafness, it’s there to make him an outsider and that’s it. Like, it feels like someone on the crew saw A Quiet Place and the praise that movie got for embracing a deaf actress and wanted some of that praise but forgot to hire a deaf actor or actually use the hearing aid in any notable way. Some of the deaths feel half-assed, either by making me have to ask “Wait, why did Chucky put that guys face on a watermelon… with his teeth and eyes clearly visible in a way that shouldn’t be possible” or by starting to do something potentially interesting before devolving into just wanton stabbing. There’s just a feeling throughout that everything is shorter than it needs to be or is missing something. At one point they try to make it out like people think Andy is doing this, which no one would even think of considering how every situation plays out, and then maybe 2 minutes later they all go “oh wait, no, no it’s Chucky. OUR BAD”. Again, the original not only made it plausible that Andy was the one doing everything but it managed to hold that idea in everyone’s heads for almost 40 minutes and the remake can barely stand to wait for 10 before making sure we all know the robot’s doing everything. Hell, they can’t even really do the scene where the doll gets the name Chucky in a way that’s well thought out. In the original it’s actually clever because the doll was possessed by a killer named Charles Lee Ray and so the killer used his nickname Chucky when introducing himself to the main kid, thus we have our doll named Chucky… here? The doll asks “What’s my name”, Andy responds “Han Solo” because Mark Hamill is doing the voice and we need a joke about that, and then the doll just responds by adamantly saying his name is Chucky… that’s dumb as hell and not in a fun way.
Even if we pretended for a minute that this wasn’t a remake, Child’s Play (2019) would still be a half-hearted horror film that has some great performances but lame execution that doesn’t seem to understand its own potential. When viewed in full context as a remake of a classic, it becomes clear that we’re witnessing a boring version of an interesting idea. This is the movie you’d make if you got the phrase “Killer Doll” as a prompt and neglected to do all the potentially interesting details. It’s the original film with its teeth ripped out and replaced with dentures, they might sting a little but it’s nowhere near as effective as what had come before. When I can boil the entire plot down to the Simpson’s quote “Someone switched this thing to evil”, we have a problem. Most remakes need to justify why they exist because we could just go back and watch the original, why bother remaking it? This movie needed to not only justify being a remake but justify why we should care about it more than what Don Mancini is doing with the original series that’s still ongoing… and they couldn’t. When the absolute best thing about a film is the marketing campaign, that probably says everything. Maybe if you have a free ticket lined up and want to see some decent voice work by Mark Hamill then sure, but otherwise, just go watch the original films because there’s nothing special about what’s been done here.