A BUDDi GOOD TIME
Child's Play (15)
Review: RJ Bland
Quite often you have to wonder why a film gets remade. Apart from the obvious financial reasons, that is. There have been a whole host of films from the 70's and 80's that have had a going over in the last few years. Some attempt to justify their existence with the promise of a new angle (Suspiria) or a bigger budget (IT) but quite often the end result has you scratching your head as to why anyone thought we needed to see an update (*cough Poltergeist).
One of the best known franchises to come out of the late 80's is Child's Play. Don Manicin's wickedly dark feature about a doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer has gone on to gain cult status and has accumulated a fair bit of controversy over the years. It's also been a pretty prolific series too, with six sequels being produced since 1990 although admittedly, these have been a bit hit and miss in terms of quality. So when MGM announced back in 2018 that a remake was in development and that novice Norwegian Director Lars Klevberg was attached to direct, a few eyebrows were raised. Chuck in the inclusion of Mark Hamill as the new voice of Chucky and you've got yourself and intriguing film-making cocktail.
'Child's Play' once again focuses on a Chicago based mother and son, Karen and Andy Audrey Plaza and Gabriel Bateman), who have just moved into their new apartment. Karen works a dead end retail job whilst Andy struggles to adapt to his new surroundings and make friends. To cheer her son up, Karen convinces her boss to let her keep an apparently defective doll that has been returned to the store, so that she can gift it to her son as an early birthday present. Suffice to say it's not any old doll. And it isn't a good guy doll either. Nope, it's the modern iteration – which in this case is a hi-tech doll called a 'Buddi'. Thankfully, it isn't possessed by the raging soul of a psychopath. However, in the opening scene, we did see a sacked Vietnamese factory worker tamper with the settings on thiRd particular 'Buddi', removing all the safety protocols. Eeek! At first, Andy isn't convinced when he receives the present. It was cool last year, but not so much this year, apparently. However, with friends in short supply and the fact that his mum's new boyfriend is an asshole, Andy soon starts to become attached to his new electronic friend, who has named himself 'Chucky' of course. However, Andy's new companion soon starts showing some worrying behavioural traits. Trying to strangle the car, watching him when he sleeps, mimicking scenes from Chainsaw Massacre movies – that kinda thing. And it isn't long before things get cranked up even further...
I think it's fair to say that this movie has divided people a bit. On one hand, you have those who view the film as an unwanted movie that disrespects the mythology that the Mancini franchise had created. The cult of Chucky indeed exists. However, there are those that were more willing to detach it from it's source material and view it on its own terms. Not that all of the latter group liked the movie, they simply had no real issues with the concept of key changes. The general consensus amongst moviegoers however has been that it's generally quite an entertaining update – and call us boring, we're pretty much in agreement.
Firstly, the idea to modernise Chucky kind of makes sense. Admittedly, when the trailers hit there were those (ourselves included) who were a little concerned that removing the possessed doll element might be a leap too far but that's not the case. Buddi may redirect the sense of horror towards the dangers of rogue AI and learning bad behaviour – but it's change that feels timely and relevant. Sure, the Charles Lee Ray voodoo thing was cool and weird but you know what? A doll that tries to kill your cat and stab you is pretty terrifying regardless of whether it's malfunctioning circuitry or a supernatural toy. Chucky doesn't look quite as scary in his new form and he's not got the brutal wit of the original but Hamilll does a pretty good with the voice.
Tonally, the film works too. The original was an odd mix of horror and comedy that often walked the line between quite uncomfortably. Amongst all the violence and gore this time around, there are still a few laughs to be had and even some of the more horrific stuff is done in a way that's so over the top you have to chuckle. Child's Play has never been a particularly scary or unsettling franchise, it's always been reliant on gore and a sense of crudeness and whilst Klevberg's is a lot more polished and less grimy, the sense of fun and playfulness is still there. The cast all do a solid job too with Bateman and Plaza deserving most praise as the mother and son duo.
The film isn't without its problems though. The Buddi doll isn't quite as menacing and mean spirited as the original Chucky and although he looks fine, the 1988 Brad Dourif version looked creepier. There is also a set of kid characters who kind of feel a bit shoehorned it and a tad uninspired. It feels like an unsuccessful attempt to tap into the whole Stranger Things dynamic but it generally falls flat. The climax also feels like it has the potential to be really kick ass, all the ingredients are there – but it sort of misses the target a little. If you're being really picky, you could level the accusation that it's all pretty predictable too but in it's defence, it doesn't commit the crime of being a beat for beat retelling of the original.
Some viewers will be pretty unforgiving of this new iteration of Child's Play and of the changes that were made. But viewed as a standalone update (and I don't imagine there's going to be a sequel), it still makes for a supremely silly and fun watch.