Lars Klevberg’s Child’s Play remake was controversial on announcement. Understandable when Don Mancini, franchise creator and producer, is still writing and directing Chucky films. The latest, Cult of Chucky, got a lot of love on release last year, whilst buzz around the remake was fairly negative. However, Klevberg and co have pulled off the impossible, crafting a nasty, savvy, but wholly fresh update for the 21st Century.
Andy (Gabriel Bateman) has moved to a new town with his mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) but hasn’t made any friends. When a damaged Buddi, the latest high-tech toy (think Siri crossed with HAL in adoll), falls into Karen’s hands, she hopes it can be the friend Andy needs. Unbeknownst to her, this particular doll has had its security measures removed.
Chucky has rarely felt like an exercise in terror, his signature potty-mouthed rage and the daftness of the films’ core concept give the Child’s Play franchise a whiff of Grand Guignol. Audiences keep coming back because they want to see a nasty bastard stuck in a doll killing folk in gory ways. Klevberg realises this and follows suit. There’s something tragic in how the well-meaning, and surprisingly endearing, artificial intelligence learns all the wrong things. When it hears Andy complain about his mum’s new boyfriend, it tries to get rid of him. When it sees Andy and friends howling with laughter at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it thinks murder and bloodshed must be good.
The new Child’s Play, whilst very much its own beast, is still a schlocky gore fest crammed with creative kills and set pieces. The angle might be different, but it’s a pretty pointed commentary and an astute update for the 21st Century. Both Mancini’s serial killer-possessed doll and the new A.I. infused Buddi can commit graphic atrocities, the only difference is in the reasoning. And, to be fair, the fact Buddi can do it by controlling most of the tech in, and out of, the house.
Neither Klevberg nor script writer Tyler Burton Smith (a superb debut feature script) are trying to turn the franchise into some gloomy cautionary tale, though. It’s more that they find an awful lot of humour in where the world is going, and Child’s Play is the perfect place to project that humour.
Plaza and Bateman have superb chemistry, one that could easily sustain sequels whilst the supporting cast (Beatrice Kitsos and Ty Consiglio in particular) are a charismatic group. The smoking gun is in the inspired decision to cast Mark Hamill in a role Brad Dourif has owned since ’88. The veteran voice artist and Jedi, already known for his definitive rendition of the Joker, brings glee and childlike confusion to a role no one thought could be recast. Like much of Klevberg’s remake it just works. Its not better than Dourif’s, just different.
Arguably the best, at least most controversial, remake of 2019, Child’s Play is a hoot. Whether you adore the originals or couldn’t give a shit about them, there’s room in the world for two wildly different murderous doll franchises. Personally, I’d love to see Klevberg’s version blossom alongside Mancini’s for years to come.
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Horror | USA, 2019 | 15 | Blu-ray, DVD & Digital | Out Now | Vertigo Releasing | Dir. Lars Klevberg | Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio