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Film Review: Child's Play

27 June 19 words: Gemma Finch

Lars Klevbergs's reimagining of the 1988 cult-classic story of murderous kids toy is a little bit hit-and-miss...

Director: Lars Klevberg

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman

Running time: 90 mins

If watching Toy Story 4 awoke your need for films about sentient toys, Child’s Play should provide your next fix. A modern take on the 1988 cult classic film of the same name, which told the story of a doll named Chucky who was brought to life by a voodoo spell. This spell allows a serial killer, on the brink of death, to transfer himself into the doll’s body and live on. The 2019 film too has a walking, talking, homicidal doll named Chucky as its focus, however the doll’s supernatural origins are discarded in favour of providing a contemporary cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing artificial intelligence into our homes. Child’s Play is far less thought-provoking and intelligent than the likes of Black Mirror, but scratches the same itch.
The creators of the 1988 original - which spawned many sequels, each one more camp and gory than its predecessor - had no creative input in this reimagining, and have no affiliation with it. Due to the Chucky franchise’s longevity - lasting over thirty years - as well as its cult status, the 2019 film caused a few toys to be thrown out of the pram by the creative forces behind the original films, and the fans. As a fan myself I can sympathise - Chucky and his original voodoo origins are arguably a package due to his status as a horror icon, so to change something so vital about the character does seems like the makers are cashing in on the success of an already established franchise, instead of making an original horror doll film from scratch. However, putting my own loyalties aside, Child’s Play is a serviceable horror flick with an up to date hook.
Child’s Play tells the story of a boy called Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) who lives with his mother Karen, (Aubrey Plaza) a single mum, in a apartment block in a poor area of New York. New to the area, Andy struggles to befriend any kids in the apartment, so to cheer her son up, Karen, who works at the local shopping mall, gives him a returned item as an early birthday gift - a Buddi doll, which is an animatronic doll that can speak, learn and interact with its surroundings. Things start off well and while the doll is clearly not in perfect condition - its voice faltering, its eyes flickering and turning from an innocuous blue to an alarming red - it is able to provide some amusement to Andy by becoming his companion, and a confidant who listens to his concerns about his mum’s new partner. 
Unlike the original films, the Chucky doll in this version is initially sympathetic - he is malfunctioning, and does not know that what he is doing is wrong
The Buddi doll comes with an app and can connect to other devices, much like products on the technology market today, and it is particularly enjoyable to see Andy and his mum set the doll up upon opening the box. The doll mishears a voice command and names itself Chucky, which is a fun nod to the original as well as a comment on the pitfalls of voice recognition technology. Voiced by Mark Hamill, Chucky’s voice is suitably creepy, yet innocent when required. The doll’s main concern is his best friend Andy, who he will do anything for. The design of the doll, however, is truly hideous nightmare fuel - I cannot help but think that there is no reality where a parent would buy a doll for their child that is so frightening looking. Andy initially has fun with Chucky and makes friends with other kids, although Chucky’s true twisted nature eventually becomes clear, and he and his friends must stop him before it is too late.
What is is disappointing about Child’s Play is the scenes when, inevitably, the doll goes wrong. As the Buddi doll is a piece of technology, the mayhem unfortunately manifests itself not by having a little doll running around with a knife , but by having a doll, unseen, controlling drones, heating systems and lawn mowers in order to kill those it misguidedly deems a threat to his and Andy’s friendship. This approach removes some of the delight having a doll as the threat should bring, and makes the reimagining not as promising as I had first thought. Although I did enjoy one murder sequence involving a rip saw, and would have appreciated the technological aspect if it was mixed in well with scenes that showed the doll itself, the majority of these scenes are poorly choreographed and lack creativity. 
The film is well-acted and the build up is of reasonable quality, but the horror elements do not not live up to the same standard, and the film does become a bit slow. Unlike the original films, the Chucky doll in this version is initially sympathetic - he is malfunctioning, and does not know that what he is doing is wrong. This characterisation is at odds however with the character he becomes by the end of the film - similar to the boisterous wise-cracking antihero of the original films. It is as if the creators are wanting to do something different with the character, but also have fun with the already established character. This is not executed well and the two facets of Chucky’s personality coexist clumsily together. Child’s Play will certainly not become a cult film, nor is it a horror masterpiece, but it is certainly not the straight to DVD dud that I had feared. 

Did you know? Don Mancini (the creator of the characters and series) is not involved in this film, and has, along with Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, and Jennifer Tilly expressed his lack of interest in it.

Child's Play is in cinemas now

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