Released: 24th April
Seen: 6th May
The Child’s Play series is one of the most fascinating horror franchises out there. Over 35 years there have been seven films, a TV series and a reboot to tell the story of a red-headed doll possessed by a serial killer (or in the reboot’s case, AI gone wrong) and for that entire time Chucky has somehow maintained a strange but cohesive story that runs throughout the franchise. It’s that rarest of series that carries the central cast and a large part of the crew for sequel after sequel.
One of the crew members who this is true about is Tony Gardner, who joined the franchise for Seed of Chucky and took over as the head puppeteer for the Chucky doll. This meant that Tony basically had to live with Chucky as a constant in his life, which also meant that Tony’s daughter Kyra Elise Gardner also had to live with Chucky for her entire life which is why she is now directing a documentary about the Child’s Play series, Living With Chucky.
Living With Chucky can be broken up into two major chunks. The first hour is a recap and brief behind-the-scenes discussion about the seven films that had been made by the time this documentary was filming and the last half hour is a more personal discussion about this strange family of creatives that have come together over the years of making these movies, what it meant for Kyra (and Fiona Douriff to a lesser extent) to grow up with famous murder dolls in her house or see her father be decapitated on screen.
The second chunk of the movie, the part about actually Living with Chucky, is by far the most fascinating element as it explores ideas of making art while having a family. Something that the audience seldom thinks about is that the people on screen are basically leaving their families for months on end to make the entertainment that we enjoy and this film puts that reality right in front of us. There’s also a very earnest discussion of how some of this art can affect family members, for example, Fiona Douriff describing how she felt seeing her father Brad recording the vocals for when Chucky is burned to death is a truly fascinating insight into what potential trauma comes with being a part of this world.
There’s an incredible intimacy in this segment of Living with Chucky, especially when Kyra steps out from behind the director’s chair and talks to the audience directly or even jokes on screen with the people who she’s known her entire life. It’s a unique way to approach a documentary about cinema that feels fresh, there aren’t many other franchises where this kind of connection even exists because most franchises are only ever linked by IP while this franchise has so many people coming back over and over again that there is an undeniable familial bond that the last 40 minutes of Living with Chucky explores in a fascinating way.
The first hour of Living with Chucky is, unfortunately, somewhat generic. That’s not to say it’s uninteresting, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the strange twists and turns that make up this franchise, but with an hour to cover 7 films there are barely 10 minutes available to talk about each of them in any real detail and that’s just not enough. It feels like some films are just glossed over because we don’t want to talk about them and certainly not explored in any real depth. Maybe films like Never Sleep Again or Crystal Lake Memories have spoiled us when it comes to this kind of film, it certainly feels like a slightly lesser version of those longer films but the reality is that it feels a little more like it’s there to pull the audience in before the turn into the more personal story that makes up the final act.
That feeling of there being two very different films being put together here even comes down to some of the choices for interview subjects. Sure it makes sense to interview cast and crew members of the Chucky movies, horror icons like Lin Shaye, and even a horror influencer like James A Janisse, but why interview people like Marlon Wayans, Abigail Breslin, or Elle Loraine? Well, it’s because those three people worked on other movies that Tony Gardner worked on, therefore they’re easily contactable by his daughter and while there are times when they feel relevant (Abigail Breslin in particular gives some great insight into being a child actor) most of the time they just feel out of place here.
This feeling is especially noticeable when there are major people in the franchise missing (no one could get hold of Justin Whalin, Katherine Heigl or Hannah from S Club 7?) meaning we feel the loss of some interesting perspectives. Including these non-Child’s Play people is a choice that could’ve maybe been used to show how wide a family you can get from being in the art world if the film maybe pointed out that connection but it never does. That was something you can only figure out when trying to learn why those people are in the Living with Chucky, revealing a potentially interesting line of storytelling that is just abandoned.
What’s somewhat undeniable is that both segments of Living with Chucky are very well done, that intimate connection between the filmmaker and subjects is clear with how at ease all the subjects are. These people are just talking openly and earnestly to someone they know, who they have in-jokes with and have seen grow up so you can feel them being somewhat more open than they are in similar interviews. This is especially true of people like Fiona Douriff who clearly shares that very strange reality that Kyra Gardner has of growing up seeing her father die over and over again in movies, it’s a connection that leads to some of the sweeter moments in Living with Chucky because you can tell their guard is down… but there’s nowhere near enough of it which is slightly frustrating.
Living with Chucky is still a very good film, one might even suggest that it’s two very good films but it’s two very different films that require different approaches and this film doesn’t do that. It never fully commits to either option, sitting somewhere in the middle to offer the fan-appeasing behind-the-scenes stuff and the more interesting story about found families created in the world of movie-making separately. It’s got more than enough great elements and ideas to make for a fun watch, there’s an undeniable amount of intense talent and love to be found here but it’s hard not to see the flaws that hold it back from being truly great, which it feels like it could’ve been if it just stuck to the more interesting idea that it ends on.