Piggybacking off a well-loved franchise, the new Child’s Play reboot might reflect fears of AI, but that’s about all this slasher flick has going for it.
When whispers of a Child’s Play reboot began to circulate, horror fans were up in arms, charging into social media battlegrounds atop their trusty keyboards. Don Mancini – the father of the franchise – was understandably pissed when neither he nor long-time Chucky voice actor Brad Dourif were offered involvement in the new film – save a token executive producer credit the former was offered and declined.
This contemporary take on Mancini’s first Chucky outing obviously isn’t for the Child’s Play barmy army. Luckily, I’m not a member. In fact, I’ve never even set eyes on the 1988 original, or the many sequels that followed for that matter. That’s great though, as it opens the door for me to crit the Child’s Play reboot without any preconceived ideas. (If you’d like to read a review from someone well-versed in the franchise lore, you can do so by clicking these words.)
By no definition is Child’s Play an outstanding horror featuring a well-written plot and carefully considered characters. It’s simply absurd. But there’s a certain timeliness to the movie too, offering it a place in the realms of acceptability. We live in an era when fully-autonomous machines are on the rise, and consequently, we fear AI and its future potential. Ergo, a flick about a smart device that develops a dark agenda makes a whit of sense.
We begin with an aggrieved employee of the Kaslan Corporation tampering with the ‘Buddi’ doll he’s assembling. Seeking vengeance after being sacked, he disables the gadget’s safety mechanisms before sending it off for shipping. The unlucky recipient is hearing-impaired teen Andy (Gabriel Bateman), gifted the doll by mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza). And that’s when the little electronic terrorist, which names itself Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill), is let loose.
At first, Chucky seems well-intentioned, helping Andy make new pals in the neighborhood. It’s not long before he begins to display a more sinister side, strangling the family feline and revealing a penchant for knife play. Things just get worse from then on, in the
least most expected ways, director Lars Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith having a lot of vicarious – but unoriginal – fun through their corrupted electronic lovechild.
While the usual Child’s Play team have been put out to pasture on this one, there are a few perceptible nods to the franchise. Although, as far as my research informs me, this isn’t the same Chucky of old. A handful of features may be familiar, but the genesis of his evil is entirely different. The Chucky that horror nuts loved and adored – a doll possessed by a dead serial killer – is replaced by a chatty and frighteningly likable Alexa-style virtual assistant on legs for the Child’s Play reboot.
There’s a much better film in here somewhere, whether or not Klevberg and Burton Smith know it. I suspect they barely flirted with the idea of crafting something more serious than this nut-fest, but their key error is incorrectly reckoning the quantities of silliness and terror required for a totally palatable end result. The problem with mixing the daft and grotesque is a likely sense of confusion, the same as striving to be day and night simultaneously. Of course, this can be pulled off, but it’s normally more fruitful to lean into one or the other. I’m all for trashy B-movie frolics, but not when their inclusion detracts from the creepy main event audiences left their sofas for. Sadly, that’s the case here, especially in the film’s lackluster final act.
If Child’s Play were a little more certain of its identity, horror aficionados may be more impressed. Alas, the jumble of vibes wound through its somewhat careless narrative get the movie lost in a haze of self-involvement. The AI satire may be timely, but the metaphor it comes packaged in has been assembled too clumsily for viewers to give it the respect Klevberg and Burton Smith probably sought. No doubt Mancini, Dourif, and the keyboard warriors are like children with new toys to play with.