I’ve been a fan of the Child’s Play series since I watched the first two films on VHS in the early 90’s. Chucky has become an icon of slasher horror and gone through a number of iterations. Despite these variances, he has a distinct personality, given life by the excellent Brad Dourif and the creative drive of Don Mancini. Being so tied to an actor and creative team the idea of a reboot has caused a lot of controversy. Also, updating a similarly distinct character met with less than stellar results in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2010. So it’s no wonder many people were sceptical about this remake.
A single mother (Aubrey Plaza) acquires a sort after toy, the interactive Buddi doll, through iffy channels for her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Despite some glitches Andy and the Doll, Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) form a bond. However, during the manufacturing process all of Chucky’s inhibitors were removed. This results in deadly consequences for anyone deemed a threat to Andy or their friendship.
While this is a remake of the 1988 supernatural slasher, it moves away from what has gone before, doing something different and modern. Released during the peak of the satanic panic and fear of dark religious practices, for the original to have a practitioner of voodoo as the villain made completed sense. This doesn’t carry the same weight or social fear factor today and would be hockey. So the creative impulse to make the 21st century Chucky a malfunctioning interactive doll is spot on. The film plays like an episode of Black Mirror, a morality tale about taking for granted the technology we invite into our homes.
More than a fear of technology tale, I really enjoyed the film as a twisted take on old favourites Toy Story and ET.
Its pure coincidence but to have both the boy in Toy Story and Chucky be named Andy provides a nice nod to the Pixar series. Films in which toys go to extreme lengths to stay with their human owner. Those sweet, loving characters that you let into your home, grow up with and share so many experiences. Chucky plays like an extreme version of Woody. Protecting his position as the favourite toy and Andy’s best friend.
Even more so is the notion of having that special friend that grownups don’t know about. Hiding E.T. and his antics are played for laughs and touching drama in 1982. In Child’s Play 2019, acts of misunderstanding are played initially for laughs and quickly develop into horror, as the acts become more violent and obsessive. Chucky even has a glowing finger in this new version, which I couldn’t help but think of E.T. and I’m digging all this.
The first half the film builds up the core relationship and the notion that Chucky just wants to be loved and make Andy happy. There is a wonderful moment following one of the first acts of violence when Chucky’s sat on Andy’s bed, sad and apologetic for his behaviour. It’s a great moment that highlights to the audience that he isn’t evil form the outset but he is on a path to evil. They have given him a child like personality and desire to do what he thinks is best, that’s hard not to sympathise with, at least in the beginning.
None of this would work if Chucky didn’t work. The design and special effects team have done a fantastic job. They maintain the look of a toy even as he becomes more and more aggressive. He remains a bit jerky and robotic throughout. It’s clear GCI is used to enhance several scenes but the practical Chucky is so effective and gives the horror tactile weight.
I mentioned before how Brad Dourif is so important to what makes the original so great. This new version also has the benefit of a great voice actor, Mark Hamill. Hamill brings a performance loaded with both pathos and menace. He never goes full joker, choosing to go lighter which is much creepier.
On top of all this, the horror is well paced and suitably gory. The kills are fun and it all leads to a predictable but enjoyable finale. Overall, this is a successful remake, updating the concept and characters to be relevant, scary and fun for a new century. I’m looking forward for the original Chucky TV show, but I also really hoping we get more Buddi Chucky in the future.