×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Child’s Play’

This good-bad ’80s horror-movie reboot from the producers of 'It' sends mixed messages, blending kid-targeted storytelling tropes with hard-R violence inappropriate for young viewers.

Director:
Lars Klevberg
With:
Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, David Lewis, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio, Carlease Burke, Trent Redekop.
Release Date:
Jun 21, 2019

Rated R  Running time: 90 MIN.

Official Site: https://bestbuddi.com/

Something happened to horror movies in the 1980s, starting a few years earlier with films such as “Halloween” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”: The villains in brutally violent slasher movies became the heroes — or, at least, the characters audiences found themselves rooting for — which in turn created the opportunity for franchises, where these virtually unstoppable killing machines came back in sequel after sequel, like some kind of recurring nightmare, to wreak more havoc. Michael, Jason, Freddy Krueger loomed iconic in the cultural imagination, spawning a wave of imitators, of which the most surreal may well have been Chucky — a blue-eyed, battery-operated doll possessed, via voodoo curse, by the soul of a deranged psycho.

From the beginning, the “Child’s Play” movies showed a playful self-awareness, openly acknowledging the sheer ridiculousness of their premise even while concocting some of the most elaborately over-the-top means of dispatching their victims — a combination that translated into no fewer than seven movies. Considering Hollywood’s more recent horror tendency to reboot, reuse and recycle many of its most recognizable franchises, it seems all but inevitable that Chucky would return once again, this time with a new origin story and a slightly different look.

If anything, it felt like poor form when Jennifer Tilly, who played the Bride of Chucky in the last four installments, took to Twitter the day the trailer for the new “Child’s Play” dropped to start a #NotMyChucky meme. Turns out, she’s not wrong. Within the film’s first minute, when an infomercial for a company called Kaslan Corporation cuts to its popular Buddi doll for the first time, “Child’s Play” fans can feel their hearts sink. (At the Los Angeles press screening, a laugh broke out, signaling early that we had entered bad-movie territory.) This clearly isn’t the classic “Good Guys” design seen in previous installments, even if the movie’s main Buddi still christens himself Chucky.

Popular on Variety

Remember the disappointment you felt that Christmas when Santa brought you an off-brand Cabbage Patch Kids counterfeit instead of the real thing? Well, if you grew up on the “Child’s Play” movies, then brace yourself for more of the same, since the doll’s expression is wrong, his glimmering-LED eyes look wonky, and no child in his right mind would want this creepy robot as a toy. Besides, what use would they have for a Buddi’s advanced features, which, when synced to other Kaslan devices, include controlling the TV, adjusting the thermostat and ordering the company’s Uber equivalent from a built-in rideshare app?

So, if this is not Tilly’s Chucky, and not the one fans expected either, just who was “Child’s Play” made for? No question the filmmakers (which no longer include Chucky’s creator, Don Mancini, replaced by Norwegian director Lars Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith) are targeting millennials who missed out on the earlier films. But cynically speaking, it feels as if they’re skewing even younger than that, toward those closer in age to Buddi’s new owner, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), assuming perhaps that parents who allowed themselves to be scarred as kids by the earlier “Child’s Play” movies might allow their offspring to see it.

This would be a very bad idea for a couple of reasons. First, the deaths are genuinely disturbing and unbelievably gory (spoilers follow in the second half of this sentence, so skip ahead if you’d rather discover this unpleasantness yourself): One guy gets the top of his head chewed off by a heavy-duty garden tiller, and another winds up straddling a table saw. More upsetting, if this is possible, is the gleeful way Klevberg presents these kills, inviting audiences to laugh at the twisted ingenuity of such macabre ways to die — something grown-ups may have the perspective to do, but that doesn’t seem like a healthy attitude to be instilling in the younger generation. Maybe that sounds alarmist. Not every movie featuring young protagonists is meant for kids (“The Exorcist” certainly wasn’t), although “Child’s Play” leans on many of the same tropes as “Super 8” and “Stranger Things,” where kids must team up to protect the incredulous adults, including friendly neighborhood detective Mike (Brian Tyree Henry).

That doesn’t square with the franchise’s emphasis on Chucky, who is no longer inhabited by the spirit of Brad Dourif’s lunatic killer (Mark Hamill voices Chucky here, whereas Dourif will return for the upcoming TV series) but has instead been programmed to go rogue by a disgruntled employee at the Chinese factory where the doll was assembled. This nameless assembly-line worker removes all the safety precautions on one Buddi doll and inserts a malevolent chip before throwing himself off the roof, setting in motion a robot uprising of sorts. Actually, it’s not quite clear what his hack accomplishes, beyond turning the doll’s eyes red and priming it to repeat curse words and exhibit potentially dangerous behavior.

After a customer returns a malfunctioning doll to the megastore where she works, Andy’s mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza, master of sarcasm and 21st-century ambivalence, which here take the place of traditional parental concern), brings the broken Buddi home to her son, who makes a few wisecracks about how he’s too old to play with such a toy. This is the new normal for horror movies: The screenplays have to seem hipper than the premise they represent, which puts “Child’s Play” in the weird position of pointing out and poking fun at all the ways it fails to make sense.

That meta aspect ultimately becomes part of the fun, and has driven the unusual marketing campaign, which, recognizing that the film opens opposite “Toy Story 4,” depicts Chucky terrorizing the Pixar toon’s most recognizable characters. No such scenes exist in the movie, although there’s a sick coincidence in the fact the owner’s name is Andy in both franchises, especially when the “Child’s Play” reboot features a kind of existential crisis for Chucky — a variation on the codependency issues Woody and company have faced in recent films. For all its homicidal tendencies, this AI abomination sincerely wants to be Andy’s “friend to the end,” and most of its behavior represents a cross between “be careful what you wish for” misinterpretations (don’t tell a literal-minded doll that you can’t stand the family cat, for instance) and creative ways of troubleshooting the smart technologies offered by companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google (even then, the movie doesn’t seem to understand why driverless cars intimidate us).

Despite all these upgrades, Chucky seems less intimidating than before. Part of this can be blamed on the ugly new character design, although he’s really hamstrung by the inevitable limits of an animatronic character’s performance. While the eyes are the only feature that appear to be computer generated, the facial expressions can be confusing, relying on the score to cue us to what Chucky is “thinking.” But when you get down to it, his personality isn’t all that interesting anymore. At least the fact the film doesn’t take itself too seriously can make “Child’s Play” fun to laugh at — a kind of good-bad movie experience that’s nowhere near as entertaining as that recent “Black Mirror” episode where Miley Cyrus plays a pop star with a dangerous tie-in toy.

Film Review: 'Child's Play'

Reviewed at AMC Century City, Los Angeles, June 19, 2019. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: An Orion Pictures release and presentation of a KatzSmith production. Producers: David Katzenberg, Seth Grahame-Smith. Executive producers: Aaron Schmidt, Chris Ferguson.

Crew: Director: Lars Klevberg. Screenplay: Tyler Burton Smith, based on characters created by Don Mancini. Camera (color, widescreen): Brendan Uegama. Editors: Tom Elkins, Julia Wong. Music: Bear McCreary.

With: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, David Lewis, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio, Carlease Burke, Trent Redekop.

More Film

  • My Zoe

    'My Zoe': Film Review

    There are two films in Julie Delpy’s ambitious, sharply-made but unbalanced “My Zoe.” There’s the scabrous relationship melodrama, about bitter exes sharing custody of a beloved child, which contains the story’s most potent emotions. And there’s the sci-fi-inflected ethical-dilemma grief movie, which houses its most provocative ideas. Both have much to recommend them, not least [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    The Big Lie of 'Richard Jewell' (Column)

    For a man who was so enraged at the administration of Barack Obama that he spent his 2012 Republican Convention speech lecturing an empty chair, Clint Eastwood has made a number of conventional, level-headed — one might even say liberal — political dramas. Films like “Invictus” and “J. Edgar” and “Midnight in the Garden of [...]

  • Oscar Isaac Star Wars The Rise

    Oscar Isaac Has Never Felt Like a 'Star Wars' Insider

    Unlike his “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” co-stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Oscar Isaac had already established a long and acclaimed acting career before J.J. Abrams cast him as ace X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” including standout roles in 2006’s “The Nativity Story” and 2011’s “Drive,” and [...]

  • Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects

    Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects by Jonas Alexander Arnby, Agnieszka Smoczyńska

    Denmark’s Jonas Alexander Arnby, France’s Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, and Poland’s Agnieszka Smoczyńska are among up-and-coming directors from across Europe whose latest projects will be presented at the 11th Coproduction Village of Les Arcs Film Festival. This edition of Les Arcs Coproduction Village will showcase a total of 22 European projects spanning 19 countries. [...]

  • Chez Jolie Coiffure

    'Chez Jolie Coiffure': Film Review

    Shortly before the credits roll on “Chez Jolie Coiffure,” a customer in the eponymous hair salon asks her stylist, Sabine, if she has any plans to go home this year. Out of context, this sounds like the kind of standard, empty small talk one often makes while having one’s hair cut: what good movies you’ve [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content