Am I wrong or are we witnessing the resurgence of the slasher sub-genre into mainstream horror? I first noticed it with the tame but surprisingly fun “Happy Death Day”. But it really stood out is when Hollywood starting bringing back old franchises. Last year “Halloween” was a big hit and a few rumors are swirling about a possible “Scream” sequel. But if there was one series I never expected to see back on a big screen it was “Child’s Play”. Yet here we are.
I remember when the original “Child’s Play” released in 1988. It was a unique and playful entry into a horror genre that frankly was growing a little stale. It was easy to laugh along with the movie but not with the host of terrible sequels that followed. Yet 2017’s unwatchably bad “Cult of Chucky” showed it still had life as a straight-to-streaming series. But now it’s actually back in theaters, remade and rebooted for a new audience. At least I think it’s for a new audience. I certainly wasn’t longing for a new installment.
This is the second feature film for Norwegian director Lars Klevberg. He teams with first-time screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith to completely reinvent and modernize the Chucky origin story. Buddi dolls now do a lot more than just talk. These versions are high-tech Alexa-like companions who can connect to numerous other devices created and sold by the multinational Kaslan Corporation (the ‘tech is scary’ and ‘beware of big business’ messaging is pretty obvious).
Also gone is the goofy serial killer possession angle. Instead a disgruntled worker at a Vietnamese sweatshop removes a Buddi doll’s safety protocols in retaliation for being fired. The doll ships overseas and ends up in the hands of a retail clerk and single mother named Karen (Audrey Plaza). She gives the doll as an early birthday present to her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) who is having trouble adapting to their new neighborhood. He names it…well, you know.
Despite something clearly being off with Chucky (deviously voiced by a wonderful Mark Hamill), Andy grows attached to his new Buddi. Things start out great, but as Chucky processes and is influenced by Andy’s complex home life, lets just say the doll slowly becomes a menacing knife-wielding threat. And I do emphasize ‘slowly’ because it takes a while before any semblance of a horror thriller arrives.
In addition to its unexpectedly slow buildup, the film also suffers from an unfortunate identity crisis. I expected a “Child’s Play” reboot in 2019 would by necessity be a full-blown horror comedy. We get a few sparks of humor but far too often it takes itself way too seriously. And the uneven story treatment carries over to some of the characters.
Take Plaza’s Karen. She starts off as a signature Audrey Plaza character full of snark and dry, sarcastic wit. But that’s quickly tossed aside and Karen becomes little more than a necessary plot device. And it’s amazing how little agency she has. Take how oblivious she is to her jerk of a boyfriend’s treatment of Andy. A character with some level of conflict would have been interesting. The film isn’t much into that.
“Child’s Play” tries to make several statements on our culture, technology, and (somewhat hypocritically) the influences of violent entertainment. While some of it lands pretty well, it’s hard to take any of it too seriously. So in a nutshell it isn’t serious enough. It isn’t funny enough. It isn’t self-aware enough. Worst of all, it isn’t the slightest bit scary. There is some occasional fun and a little bit of amusing nostalgia, but certainly not enough to carry the movie through to its end.
VERDICT – 2 STARS