Child’s Play (2019) Directed by Lars Klevberg In an effort to emotionally connect with a lonely boy, an artificially intelligent toy embarks on a gruesome rampage of murder and destruction in this update of the 1988 slasher classic.
Our first taste of the new incarnation of Chucky comes during a brightly lit commercial featuring Kaslan Corps president, Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson) debuting the Buddi doll. I was immediately put off by the doll’s odd facial structure and the strange CGI look of his mouth as he speaks. That’s my only minor complaint and its purely cosmetic.
This version of Chucky is wholesome and he sincerely longs to be a good friend. His large eyes and innocent appearance actually end up serving the narrative.
The Buddi doll streams music, connects to The Cloud, integrates with your TV, controls various Kaslan pieces of household equipment and toys via a Bluetooth transmitter in its finger. And it is capable of learning from human interaction.
Cut to a Kaslan factory in Vietnam, where a daydreaming assembly line worker is viciously chastised and then fired by his manager. Before leaving his computerized work station, he removes the behavior and learning inhibitors in the CPU for one of the Buddi dolls. These inhibitors prevent the doll from using profanity, endangering children with violent acts or even killing. Having pulled off this parting act of revenge, the fired employee packs the doll in a box and commits suicide.
In Chicago several weeks later, Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) works in the Returns department at the Best Buy-esque big box store Zed Mart. The store is preparing for the global release of Kaslan’s Buddi 2 doll, which is blonde and packed with more features than the original red headed model.
A woman returns a Buddi doll because it’s bright blue eyes lit up red and it began behaving strangely. Karen seizes the opportunity to nab the expensive Buddi for her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) by blackmailing her boss over his extramarital affairs.
Andy has had a hard time adjusting to their recent move to Chicago and spends most of his time alone playing on his phone or being menaced by the grumpy family cat, Mickey Rooney. Upon first introduction, Andy is less than enthused by the doll. But he musters up enough gratitude to give it a name:
“Hello, Andy. What’s my name?”
(Doll has a glitchy seizure)
We now enter the euphoric phase of Andy and Chucky’s relationship. They play board games, draw, confide in each other and more. The doll constantly soaks up information: while watching Andy cut a sandwich for his school lunch, Chucky practices cutting with an imaginary knife. While playing in Andy’s bedroom, the boy is bitten by Mickey Rooney and bleeds. Chucky’s blue irises instantly turn crimson and it begins strangling the cat before Andy intervenes.
Dismissing the protective nature of the automaton as a quirk, Andy shows him off to neighborhood girl Falyn and her buddy Pug. The three become friends.
While watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” one night with his new human pals, Andy inadvertently exposes Chucky to hideous violence and gore. The doll watches in wonder as the children chortle with glee at Chop Top and Leatherface gruesomely slaughtering innocents onscreen. Now convinced that violence is a way to make them happy, Chucky nabs a knife from the kitchen and attempts to stab Pug. He is forcefully stopped by Andy, and admits that he only did it to make them happy.
So what we’ve got is a horror icon who is essentially an innocent trying to relate to the unhealthy thoughts of his human superiors. This Chucky isn’t trying to commit evil acts. He’s trying to connect with Andy and his fellow humans, and his complete lack of inhibition means that he’s able to do anything to ingratiate himself.
It’s an absolutely brilliant screenwriting twist on the formula to make Chucky the literal hero while the corrupt world around him is less than wholesome.
I rolled my eyes several weeks ago reading about how Chucky controls various items via Bluetooth.
Me: “Oh yeah, here comes another failed attempt to make modern tech scary. He’s got Wifi and he can control the thermostat or something. This is going to be a complete disaster.”
Then I saw the remake. 70 minutes into the film, Chucky greets happy children at the debut of Buddi 2 with frighteningly murderous cybernetic bears and drones with razor blade propellors. At one point before the bloody mayhem begins, the killer doll looks down contemplatively at a table laden with lethal drones.
Me: (grinning) “Do it, Chucky.”
And did I mention that Mark Hamill voices Chucky? He’s relentlessly upbeat, even when severing heads.
It might not be high art, but this one features surprisingly complex psychological subtext. Chucky is a sympathetic prisoner of his own warped programming. He wants to do the right thing. His core motivation is always to protect Andy, but his methods are completely deranged. Several of his victims are immoral and evil, which only furthers the sympathy angle.
Gone is the profanity-spewing hellion seeking to transfer his soul into the boy who came to own him, and in his place is a true friend to the end. He’s incredibly jealous and envious of Andy’s social circle and willing to slaughter dozens to be alone with his buddy. Couple this winning characterization with the kind of gruesome hard R gore and bloody killings that have been missing from the horror scene for a while, and you’ve got a potent night at the movies. You’ve met Chucky as a sadistic psychopath in the past.
Now, get ready to meet the actual Good Guy.
Body count: 8
- A man commits suicide by jumping from a building.
- A cat is strangled and then stabbed to death.
- A man is run over with a tilling machine, crushing his skull.
- A woman is stabbed in the chest.
- A man is castrated and has his legs severed on a table saw.
- A man is stabbed in the jugular.
- A man has his throat slashed by a razor equipped drone.
- A man is mauled to death by a robotic bear.