When it was announced last year that there would be a new reimagination to the 1988 film Child’s Play, it was met with hesitation and anger. With Don Mancini, the creator of Chucky, still working on projects, most couldn’t understand how a new CHILD’S PLAY could come into existence and not be under the direction of Mancini. Though it was a hit with a lot of backlash, a few us kept an open mind to see what could transpire for a new generation of Chucky fans. Though it may have its flaws, this new iteration of CHILD’S PLAY ended up being surprisingly entertaining.
CHILD’S PLAY is directed by Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) with a screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith (Kung Fury, Quantum Break video game) based on characters created by Don Mancini. The film stars Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West, Safety Not Guaranteed, Legion), Gabriel Bateman (Lights Out, Annabelle, American Gothic), Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows), and Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series) as the voice of Chucky. The film is a contemporary re-imagining of the 1988 classic film and it follows Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza), a single mother who gifts her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a Buddi doll, unaware of its more sinister nature. Some may not like the opening sequence which features a Vietnamese factory worker messing with the Buddi dolls technology – but I think it’s a commentary on the state of consumerism and the unbelievably awful working conditions that many within other countries experience.
To start things off, the two biggest changes to this film are that Buddi (aka Chucky) is an AI and does not possess the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray and Andy is a 13-year-old instead of a 6-year-old kid. I liked both of these changes to the storyline because it allowed for this film to start its own mythology. Furthermore, some may argue that Andy is too old to have a Buddi doll. That said, I like how Tyler Burton Smith was able to address that issue through Andy’s struggle to form a relationship with other kids.
In regards to Chucky, I’ll be honest, it took me a bit to get used to his new look. The original franchise has seven films to it and though Chucky’s look has changed throughout the years, his main features have, for the most part, stayed the same. However, in this new iteration, he’s an AI and though there are similarities to the way he once looked, this AI, to be quite honest, is much more terrifying to me than the original. Additionally, I had to get used to his new voice, and to the surprise of no one, Hamill kills it with his voice acting. He does pay homage to Brad Douriff, but for the most part Hamill brings about his own creative spark to the doll. Most surprising of all, though, was the emotional depth that Chucky had. There’s one scene, in particular, where we see Chucky scolded by Andy which actually made me feel bad for the doll. But that’s the thing about this movie, Chucky is making decisions that he thinks are right to protect his best friend, Andy. The further into the movie we get Chucky does undergo some changes that allow him to become more sinister, but at Chucky’s core he’s just doing what he thinks is right – even if that means murdering people (and an animal).
One thing that this film duplicated from the original was the use of practical effects. Everything from the doll’s creation to some of the gruesome deaths was done all practically and it looked terrific. I was a big fan of some of the kill scenes (especially one that involves a lawnmower) as well as scene towards the end that involves a robotic teddy bear. A lot of work went into making this film as practical as possible and as someone who really appreciates that type of work, I was glad to see that the team stuck with that for this film. Also, the use of colors and the framing of scenes were done beautifully with an artistic touch I wasn’t expecting.
CHILD’S PLAY also deals with a lot of themes ranging from acceptance to friendships. I know what you are thinking, you just want to see Chucky murdering people and I get that. However, I think to touch upon those ideas really elevated the movie. From the beginning of the film, we learn that Andy feels isolated from people his own age. It’s hard enough being a young teen but then bring in the fact that Andy wears a hearing aid only exacerbates those feelings. I know this might sound corny to some, but I think those of us who have ever been made to feel different, or were judged for how we look, will find a lot to relate to in regards to Andy’s circumstances. Because of Andy’s hesitancy to make new friends, this allows him to find a companion with the Buddi doll. Since his mom couldn’t afford a brand new one, she purchases a refurbished one that malfunctions at times and through that, you can see the parallels between Andy’s acceptance of the doll and Chucky’s desire to be Andy’s best friend.
As for the acting, Gabrielle Bateman does a fantastic job portraying Andy and is truly the heart of the movie. I can only imagine how important it was to find the right kid for the job and Gabrielle absolutely nails it. Aubrey Plaza is just as great as Karen, though I wish we had gotten a little more screentime with her. With this being her first foray into the horror genre, it makes me excited to see the possibilities that may lie ahead for her. Fans of Plaza will be happy to know that she’s playing a loving mom who is just as sarcastic and dry as she is in all her other films. However, my favorite character was that of Detective Mike Norris played by Brian Tyree Henry. Even though he’s a cop, his personality is warm and personable, and since his mom lives in the same apartment building as the Barclay’s he eventually befriends Andy. Also, Brian Tyree Henry is hilarious and gave a lot of much needed comic relief.
In all, this CHILD’S PLAY is never going to be what the original is and that’s completely okay. I can’t urge you all enough to go into this with an open mind and to remember that this is a re-imagining. I think director Lars Klevberg did a terrific job with bringing this film to life and creating an emotional attachment with Chucky. CHILD’S PLAY may not be perfect but it delivers over-the-top gore, loads of humor, and, surprisingly, breathes new life into one of horrors most beloved and iconic characters. With that said, prepare to make a new best friend when CHILD’S PLAY is now available on Blu-ray and DVD which include bonus features such as The Making of Child’s Play, bringing Chucky to life, and much more.