CINEMASCOPE: SOULLESS CHUCKY

July 07, 2019

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Child’s Play is a bit of a mixed bag. While it has its moments, it can also feel underwhelming. As you may recall, the original film from 1988 was a classic horror film where a child’s doll named Chucky (played by the fantastic Brad Dourif) was possessed by the soul of a serial killer. It was a creepy, unnerving, suspenseful and groundbreaking film. Unfortunately, the franchise couldn’t keep its mojo, and each subsequent sequel was sillier than the next.

It’s interesting that they’ve made this reboot, considering that the original franchise is still going! In fact, it almost feels like this started as a script for another film, until Orion Pictures noticed the similarities and decided to remould it into a modern update.

The main difference is that in this version, Chucky isn’t possessed by the soul of a serial killer. Instead, it’s a malfunctioning high-tech smart doll made by the Kaslan Corporation that can control other electronic products from the company. Think Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa meets Skynet.

The first question is, why would anyone need a smart doll? This product is clearly targeted at kids. Do toddlers need to control the fridge, air conditioning, thermostat and light bulbs through their toy?

The reboot of Child’s Play comes off as a poor man’s Black Mirror and it’s basic premise doesn’t even make much sense

Then, there’s the fact that it’s a machine rather than a possessed doll. Unfortunately, without a soul, Chucky is rather … soulless. While he cracks a few amusing one-liners here and there, Chucky is devoid of personality because of the dull characterisation.

The only reason I had been looking forward to the film was because Chucky is voiced by Mark Hamill who, aside from playing Luke Skywalker, has proven himself to be a terrific voice actor with iconic roles such as the animated Joker. Here, Hamill is very good despite working with an average script.

The other problem with Child’s Play is that it’s derivative. If you’ve been keeping up with entertainment trends, you know exactly what Tyler Burton Smith was thinking, scene by scene. To start with, Child’s Play comes off as a poor man’s Black Mirror. Of course, Black Mirror, a show that often offers heavy-handed commentary on the dangers of technology, is itself usually mediocre, which makes the commentary in Child’s Play feel especially tired. Again, every time the film tried to warn us about the dangers of technology, I wanted to shout at the screen: “Why would anyone mass produce a smart doll? What company thinks parents want their little children to control their home’s electronics?”

The main difference is that in this version, Chucky isn’t possessed by the soul of a serial killer. Instead, it’s a malfunctioning high-tech smart doll made by the Kaslan Corporation that can control other electronic products from the company. Think Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa meets Skynet.

Then, there’s the child himself, Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman). In the original film, Andy was a six-year-old boy. Here, he is 13. The reasons for this change are obvious. It makes far more sense for a 13-year-old to form a posse with his friends to hunt down a supernatural being.

It’s clear that the film was trying to cash in on the nostalgia of the ’80s. Unfortunately, that nostalgia has been cashed in on already by films such as J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (2011), the It remake (2017), and Netflix’s Stranger Things franchise. The bank is now empty. If I see another group of young plucky teenagers band together to form an unlikely gang so that they can hunt down their neighborhood freak of the season, I’ll pull my hair out (not that there’s much left anyway).

To be fair, Child’s Play isn’t all bad. There’s a bit of amusing dark humour, some fun gratuitous slasher scenes, and a fun ending that’s better than the film’s first two acts. Unfortunately, Child’s Play is too busy trying to replicate the magic of other films and TV shows to try and create more of its own. Well, at least it has Mark Hamill.

Rated R for bloody horror, violence, and language throughout

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 7th, 2019