The original Child’s Play is my absolute favorite horror film of all time, when it was first released in 1988 it terrified me like nothing else before or after. So news of a remake was met by obvious resistance from the start. I vowed never to see it and thought it was a bad idea considering the original continuity was still ongoing through Don Mancini’s films and upcoming TV series. Still after seeing trailers and images, my morbid curiosity got the best of me and I decided I needed to see what this was all about for myself.
Surprisingly enough, I did not hate this new take on Child’s Play. To simplify my thoughts, it was so different from the original that it ended up not being as offensive to me as I imagined it would be. So that is a plus of course. The direction by Lars Klevberg was also well done and the film had a nice look to it that was sometimes betrayed by the writing. Having said that, as a whole the film is not great and I think it has some good things and ideas in it, but unfortunately it’s flaws really stand out and weaken the movie to the point where I kind of checked out about halfway through.
Child’s Play 2019 made the smart decision to not try to retread much of the original film’s story and beats. It goes in a whole other direction with Chucky now being an AI powered smart doll from a toy line known as The Buddi doll as opposed to the Good Guy doll from the original. The film having ditched the soul of a serial killer route now focuses on how the AI doll interacts with Andy, it is here where the movie shines, as Chucky now becomes very endearing and sympathetic as we see him try to learn about the world around him and vie for the approval and friendship of Andy. Everything that happens in the film is most due to Chucky’s desire for Andy’s friendship. He is basically an innocent little robot who actually wants to be friends and do good things for Andy, but thanks to some faulty programming (aka tampering on the part of a disgruntled factory worker) he does not have his fail-safes activated in order to curb any violence or danger. This is the best stuff in the movie as we see Chucky making genuine efforts to understand his new world. So yes it’s basically Short Circuit but it honestly works. This new angle kept me interested and I found myself enjoying seeing the relationship between Chucky and Andy grow. That was the highlight. The way they had Chucky behave and act even made the ridiculous redesign work on screen. It’s still ugly, but it worked in context. I actually would have liked to have seen a bit more of these moments between the two as it was different to see Chucky doing bad things out of his genuine love and concern for Andy. Stuff like this is what I found good about the remake that it didn’t just retread the same old beats from ’88.
Acting in the film is a mixed bag but the most important role, that of Andy is actually great. Gabriel Bateman does a wonderful job of selling everything that is happening no matter how outlandish or silly at times, and it DOES get silly. As I said before his relationship with Chucky is what carries the film and without it, this thing would have fallen apart much faster than it did. Aubrey Plaza as Karen Barclay and Bryan Tyree Henry as Mike Norris are good enough as well but I don’t think these roles particularly gave them much to flex their acting muscles. Everyone else really didn’t leave an good impression one way or another and one or two characters were just too over the top for my taste.
While I really did enjoy the first 40 or so minutes of the film, at about the halfway mark where Chucky turns evil and decidedly “against” Andy is where things fall apart for me. We get an absolutely ridiculous and silly scenario involving a watermelon that drags on for far too long and feels like it’s from a completely different film. It was this scene where I checked out and completely lost my suspension of disbelief. Also the second half of the film felt so rushed in comparison to the first which allowed things to breathe and evolve. Even the big store massacre scene that has been played up in the advertisements is rushed through without hitting it’s full potential and I will be fair and say there was a ton of potential to be capitalized on. I really wish this film had an extra 15 or so minutes to flesh the world out a bit better.
Speaking of the world, one of my biggest issues in any film is when the location is not really well established, while most of the action takes place in Andy’s apartment it is placed in a “random non descript urban location” ie Vancouver…and this always takes me out of films as well. It always makes things feel less real and that bugs me, it’s a personal preference, but when I can’t get a sense of the world your story takes place in, it’s going to be a strike against your film, and this theme continued with the fact that in a few instances particularly one sequence near the end we are askedto believe the Buddi doll is some big phenomenon that people would wait online at midnight to purchase it’s latest model. Similar to how the Good Guy Dolls in the original series were the most popular toys out like Cabbage Patch Kids were, the original Good Guy dolls were a send up of commercialism in the 80’s. I didn’t buy it in the new film, especially since the Buddi doll is just a super advanced AI product, but the rest of the world isn’t established at the beginning of the film particularly to show technologically advanced this world is until later on, so when you see what essentially is a little robot walking around and living in the Barclay apartment and nobody bats an eye, it seems jarring. Just as jarring as when a driverless car shows up in the 3rd act (which leads to one of the worst scenes in the film)
Of course the main draw of a Child’s Play film is Chucky and the “Chucky” we have here is a completely different iteration of the character, so different in fact that he never FEELS like Chucky and in turn when he becomes the killer doll advertised in the trailers, it just feels like it’s happening because they are using the name Chucky and he needs to kill people to justify this movie existing. Nothing wrong with his motivation for the most part in this, the first half explains it pretty well, however the doll has ZERO personality when it is in kill mode and that is it’s biggest flaw. It’s not particularly scary and it’s creepier in the beginning of the film when he is all innocent and wide eyed. Chucky in the original series is obvioulsy FULL of personality, this version it seemed like giving him some kind of murderous personality was an afterthought (even with Mark Hamill doing a solid job on the voice acting) and that kinda personifies this film perfectly, much like it’s version of Chucky, Child’s Play 2019 starts out with plenty of charm and fun, but ultimately ends up just a soulless product. It could have been much worse and I credit them for going in a different direction, so in that regard I was never bored as I have been with other remakes that just retread old ground (looking at you Pet Semetary) but at the same time, perhaps with more care and focus on the more interesting ideas in the film, along with a longer running time and a more polished script they could have made something that stands proudly alongside the original as a good remake can often do. As it stands Childs Play is entertaining and due to it’s changes justifies it’s existence as a remake, however it still misses some important marks.