If you ask any horror fan to name some of the greatest and most recognisable horror villains of all time, there’s no doubt that one of them would definitely be the evil foul-mouthed serial killing doll Chucky. After making his first appearance in the hit classic ’80s supernatural slasher horror film CHILD’S PLAY, Chucky (voiced by legendary character-actor Brad Dourif) instantly became an overnight sensation and would go on to be an beloved icon in the horror genre. Now over thirty years later Chucky and the CHILD’S PLAY franchise are still just as popular as ever due to the series still turning out consistently strong sequels throughout the years, which includes six films so far (the most recent one being CULT OF CHUCKY released in 2017). Even though the series still going strong, the makers behind the 2017 box office smash hit horror film IT have decided to remake CHILD’S PLAY and do their own separate franchise for a whole new generation of viewers. This time with “Luke Skywalker” himself STAR WARS star Mark Hamill doing the voice of Chucky. Was this remake able to deliver on the CHILD’S PLAY name? Read on and find out!
The film tells the story of Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), a lonely 13 year old boy who has just moved into a apartment in a new neighbourhood with his single mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza). Seeing that her son has feeling down about a lot of things lately, Karen decides to give Andy as an early birthday present that she got from her job to cheer him up. After opening it up, Andy sees that his present is a Buddi Doll, a hot new toy on the market that’s a sentient robot that can link to any electronic device through the home via an app. At first Andy finds the doll a little too creepy but overtime, the two of them become best friends and soon the doll is given the name of Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill). Later Andy begins to notice that something is off with Chucky since he acts differently from all the other Buddi Dolls that are out there but when the other kids in his neighbourhood comment on how cool and unique this makes his doll look, Andy shrugs it off and enjoys the attention that Chucky is getting. However as time goes on, Andy starts to get freaked out by Chucky due to some strange and violent acts that he has committed around the apartment. Andy tries to ignore it but when he discovers that people that he knows are being murdered, he believes that Chucky is the one responsible for all of it.
While I know that a lot of horror fans were dead-set against the idea of a CHILD’S PLAY remake ever since it was first announced, I honestly had no problem with it at all and was pretty much open to the idea of a big screen reboot of the series. However that being said, there was one thing about this remake that actually did rub me the wrong way about it: the total disregard that the producers had for CHILD’S PLAY creator Don Mancini (who has written/co-written all seven and directed three previous instalments of the series). The fact the makers behind this remake went ahead and rebooted the series without Mancini’s involvement while his original Brad Dourif starring CHILD’S PLAY/CHUCKY franchise is still on-going as we speak (with more sequels and even a TV show in the works), did leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Still regardless about my personal feelings about Don Mancini’s mistreatment, I decided to keep an open mind about the remake anyway and judge it on its own as a film. So what did I think of it? While it definitely isn’t on the same level as the 1988 horror classic, the new CHILD’S PLAY is actually a surprisingly solid and enjoyable remake. I think the main reason why it worked for me as much as it did, was definitely the different approach that the new creative team behind the remake tackled with it.
While the original 1988 version of CHILD’S PLAY played its high concept premise both very straight and scary, director Lars Klevberg (POLAROID) and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith (the upcoming KUNG FURY 2) take this remake in the opposite direction by making a completely ridiculous and darkly funny horror/comedy that fully embraces the silliness of its story. More similar to the that of the later sequels in the original Don Mancini CHILD’S PLAY series like BRIDE OF CHUCKY, which was the one that this remake’s tone reminded me off the most. I must admit that I was a really put off by this approach at first but as it progressed along, I started to warm up to the vibe of it and have a lot of more fun with the film. While they do keep some specific key elements from the original 1988 into this remake, Smith’s script adds new aspects to the story that help make it the film feel unique and even insane. Seriously there were times even I was surprised how demented this remake can be at times. Not just with the gory kills (which were delightfully gruesome in how some of them were staged), but also where the film would go with its story. There was one subplot in particular that was so messed up, that I found it utterly hilarious. I won’t say what it is due to it being a spoiler, but you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when you see it. Director Lars Klevberg in particular brought a lot to the film with his direction. He did a pretty good job at handling the film’s off-kilter tone and horror set pieces. Smith’s script also brings a lot of interesting ideas/themes and satirical elements to the story, that help make this remake feel different from the original. Plus how he handles Chucky’s new backstory and motivations as to why he goes on a killing spree were done really well.
Now there was one key aspect about this remake that I know both myself and a lot of horror fans were curious about, which of course is how the character of Chucky turned out. Especially with Mark Hamill taking over voicing duties. When it was revealed that both Chucky’s backstory was changed him being a doll that’s possessed by the soul of a serial killer to a sentient robot that goes on a rampage and as well as going to voiced by a new actor, horror fans were definitely were not happy with either to say the least. While there was one little thing about this new backstory that I found a little iffy, I’m happy to report that all of out fears were definitely unfounded: the Chucky in this remake is pretty awesome. The filmmakers were able to successfully capture everything that we love about the character while added some new layers to him as well. Of course it also the helps that he is voiced by Mark Hamill, who I thought fantastic job in the role. Brad Dourif is so iconic as the voice of Chucky in the previous films, that I wonder as to whether Hamill (even though he is accomplished voice actor in his own right by having played The Joker in BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES) would be able to do the character justice with his performance. Luckily he was able to pull it off brilliantly by bringing a lot of surprisingly amount of creepiness and even a little empathy to Chucky. Plus he had a really good dynmatic with co-star Gabriel Bateman, who also gave a equally great performance in the lead role of Andy. His character goes through so much with journey throughout the film, Bateman handled the challenges of the role with absolute ease.
When it comes to the supporting cast, I thought that everyone did a solid job in their roles. That being said, some were definitely better than others. Most notably Aubrey Plaza, who I thought was miscast in the role of Andy’s mother Karen. While Plaza brings her trademark humour to the character, I just never bought her as being a mother. Honestly she came across more as a big sister than anything else. Still despite her miscasting, she was still fun in the role nonetheless. However the standout of supporting cast for me was definitely Brian Tyree Henry, who brought a large amount of likeability to his role of Detective Mike Norris. On the technical front cinematographer by Brendan Uegama was extremely stylish and atmospheric, composer Bear McCreary’s music score was very memorable (I love how it sounds like a creepy version of a children’s lullaby) and the practical/puppetry effects were excellent. Now was there aspects about the film that didn’t work for me? Well, some of the supporting cast weren’t given much to do. Especially young actors Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio and Marlon Kazadi, who played the roles of Andy new friends (Falyn, Pugg, Omar) respectively. While I loved Chucky as a character, I honestly didn’t like the design of him at all. Seriously, why the hell would any kid want a toy that looked as grotesque as him? However Chucky’s design did grow on me as it went along once the characters started commenting on how creepy he looked, which gave the film a very meta feeling to it. Also as demented this film can be, I felt that they could have gone further with the insanity. There were times while I felt the film was going to get really crazy, but the filmmakers would pulled back before it did. Especially with the entire finale, which was good but could have been even better.
Overall despite having a lot of potential being another shallow Hollywood produced horror remake that we have experience many times before, the remake of CHILD’S PLAY managed to overcome the odds to become one of this year’s biggest film surprises for me. It’s a really entertaining, insane and well made horror/comedy that I know a lot of horror fans are going to have a great time with. Especially if you love Chucky and the whole CHILD’S PLAY franchise. Plus it does what all horror remakes should strive to do: take key aspects of what made the original so beloved, add a whole bunch of new elements and mix it into something that’s completely its own unique thing. If you’re one of those people who is still on the fence about the film or even that its sacrilege that someone would remake a horror classic, I would definitely say give it a chance. I have a really good feeling that you will enjoy this remake as much as I did too.
CHILD’S PLAY (2019) is currently screening in cinemas across Australia.
Review written by Bede Jermyn