Let’s make one thing clear: Lars Klevberg’s Child’s Play is not your father’s Chucky. This update to the story of a serial killer trapped in a doll’s body throws that premise out the window in favor of a sleek, tech-savvy approach to the slasher genre. In 2019, Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) is an advanced A.I. doll that can connect with all of your smart devices, an angle the film uses effectively.
Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) is a loner who has just moved to a new city. His mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), is a retail worker struggling to make ends meet. When a defective Buddi doll is returned to the store, she takes advantage of the opportunity and takes it home as an early birthday gift for her son. The only issue is, this particular doll’s operating system has been tampered with, and has no safety protocols in place. When Chucky grows too attached to Andy, he wants to make sure that he is the only best friend that Andy will have — using any means necessary.
This is far removed from the voodoo-practicing serial killer of the original Child’s Play films, which is a good thing. Seeing as Don Mancini’s original franchise is still going strong, Klevberg and company needed to find something to separate their film from the others. In reality, it makes for a clever film that subverts expectations.
For one thing, the film actually takes time developing the relationship between Andy and Chucky. Andy is a loner who has issues with his mom’s sketchy boyfriend. Chucky is a defective piece of technology that only wants to please his buddy. The two actually become best friends before the carnage starts, and when it does, it hits hard.
An issue many may take with the film is that Chucky is rather sympathetic — even after going entirely bonkers. His attempts to make Andy happy are misguided, but rooted in good intentions. Mark Hamill sells Chucky’s struggle to be accepted by Andy, imbuing Chucky with a kindness and warmth that can vanish in an instant. When Andy rejects Chucky’s “gifts,” it’s easy to feel bad for Chucky, who genuinely doesn’t understand why his actions are causing such disgust and pain for his friend. However, this is an angle that takes the film to some interesting places, keeping the audience invested in the exploits of its two leads.
While Andy and Chucky are given a good amount of screen time to develop, the peripheral characters aren’t so lucky. Aubrey Plaza does her best in a role that isn’t very deep. Brian Tyree Henry gives it his all as Detective Mike Norris, but the script doesn’t take enough time with him for anything to really land. David Lewis is saddled with a typical asshole role that has you cheering when he inevitably finds himself on the wrong side of Chucky’s wrath. They all give good performances with what they have, but it’s never enough for them to really come alive. After all, this is the Andy and Chucky show.
An A.I. Chucky doesn’t just benefit the plot, but also the kills. The ability to connect to other smart devices plays into many of the character dispatchings, at times bringing to mind the deaths of the Final Destination franchise. Klevberg leans into the R-rating, splattering the screen with blood and viscera in inventive and clever ways. The third act is insane and gory, taking his smart capabilities to the next level.
Of course, all of this is set against a fantastic score from Bear McCreary, perhaps the best film score of the year. McCreary uses toy instruments for the majority of the score, giving everything an eerie, childlike wonder. It’s wonderfully macabre music that enhances the mood of the film in the best ways, giving an inherent creepiness to the gruesome proceedings. If McCreary doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for his work here (he won’t), it will be a crime.
Klevberg utilizes color to telegraph his scares wonderfully. Blue and red signals appear throughout the film, in Chucky’s eyes, in the lighting of the sets, in the final act of the film. The warm blues give off a false sense of safety; the harsh reds tell you that something awful is afoot. It’s also full of primary colors, evoking the innocence inherent in a movie about a murderous toy.
Child’s Play is everything a modernized remake should be: innovative, fun, and scary. It will inevitably be compared to Tom Holland’s 1988 original, but it’s a different beast entirely. Boasting a dark sense of humor, gory kills, and a new twist on an old tale, this film proves that this thirty-one-year-old franchise still has plenty of exciting avenues to explore. Chucky has proven that he will indeed be a horror fan’s best friend ’til the end.
Director: Lars Klevberg
Screenwriter: Tyler Burton Smith
Starring: Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry, with Mark Hamill
Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language throughout