Horror remakes, while certainly not as commonplace as they were 10 years ago, will always be met with a mix of caution and pure hostility. Such is the case with this new take on the character of Chucky, introduced in 1988, and since becoming one of iconic horror characters for the genre. Still very much alive and well in a series of straight-to-DVD films shepherded by series creator Don Mancini and portrayed by the original actor Brad Dourif, the die-hard Chucky fans have certainly not taken to news of an updated version of Chucky with open arms. Yet, for those of them willing to give this new stab a try, they may very well be surprised by what they unbox.
This update of the story (wisely) removes the voodoo possession that put the soul of a serial killer inside this unsuspecting form: a children’s doll. Here, Chucky is a ‘Buddi’, a robotic doll from the Kaslan Corporation. When an embittered factory worker removes all the safeguards from a doll’s programming, he sets off a chain of violent events which begins to unfurl when single mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza) gifts the defective model to her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), on his birthday.
The general set-up of the murderous mayhem remains largely the same from the original, but aside from that, this is a very different film and is frankly all the better for it. To start with, the dynamic between mother and son is much more refreshing in this case, with Plaza’s young mom doing all that she can to make sure her son is as happy as can be, even if she gets a lot wrong along the way. Plaza is great in the role, delivering her trademark deadpan wit, while also striking a chord with the young Gabriel Bateman as Andy. Bateman himself very much proves to be the star, carrying the film with a sense of confidence that only the very best young actors can exhibit.
The really significant changes, however, can be seen with Chucky himself. Rather than have him be a vessel of pure evil on the rampage, this update frames Chucky more as an innocent, his system corrupted by a disgruntled worker fed up of receiving orders from a massive capitalist conglomerate, whose violent behaviour is further influenced by the violent movies and games that Andy and his friends consume. And with the ever-excellent Mark Hamill providing the voice (landing somewhere in between his work as The Joker and Brigsby Bear), he feels like a very different character, and one who is arguably more interesting than the wise-cracking tormentor that Dourif has supplied for the last 20 years.
In terms of the horror, Child’s Play 2019 is a jet black hoot. Owing more to the work of Joe Dante (namely Gremlins and, weirdly enough, Small Soldiers) than anything in the original, Chucky’s inevitable murdering spree is carried out with a mischievous grin and an eagerness to use practical effects. Director Lars Klevberg doesn’t skimp on the blood and there’s a nice level of inventiveness to the gore, thanks largely to Chucky’s ability to control any Kaslan device (he’s essentially a knee-high Alexa in overalls), with a more playful energy also coming from the fact that most of the people that Chucky kill kinda have it coming. The level of knowing humour on display, helped in no short measure by some genuinely funny jokes, ensure that this tight, 90 minute package is a bloody, funny riot.
While this new take on Chucky may not win over those devoted to Mancini’s on-going take on the character, it is arguably a superior remake (full disclosure: I’ve never been a huge fan of the series, so I can’t say I’m too precious about the little guy). Not everything works, particularly in regards to a lazy attempt to provide Andy with a group of Stranger Things-esque buddies. But, largely, this works as a remix of the franchise’s iconography that shouldn’t offend life-long fans, and should more than please newcomers to the franchise (and at the end of the day, those Mancini movies aren’t going anywhere).
Child’s Play is a delightfully old-school horror with a wicked sense of humour, some fun performances and a sense of inventiveness that makes this remake a genuinely pleasant surprise. So c’mon, give this Chucky a chance and let him be your buddy.
Dir: Lars Klevberg
Scr: Tyler Burton Smith, based on the original Child’s Play screenplay by Don Mancini
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry and Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky
Prd: David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith
DOP: Brendan Uegama
Music: Bear McCreary
Country: United States
Runtime: 90 minutes
Child’s Play is in cinemas from June 21st.