Don’t fuck with the Chuck. That’s the mantra a lot of Chucky fans have had since the announcement of the new Child’s Play film, and I get it. But if you’re choosing to ignore the film simply because you’re a fan of the original, you’re missing out, because the new Child’s Play is shockingly fun…
…One reason this remake works? It’s a huge departure from Tom Holland and Don Mancini’s original. Which is exactly what a remake should be. In this new Child’s Play, directed by Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) and written by Tyler Burton Smith, we’re introduced to the Kaslan company, an Apple-esque conglomerate that produces loads of smart-home devices, such as TVs, phones, and, of course, toys. After a somewhat goofy set-up for our evil Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill), a new toy with an advanced AI that can connect to other Kaslan products, we find the doll in the hands of Andy (Gabriel Bateman), a 13-year old kid without any friends. Andy loves his new doll, Chucky, at first, but soon, Chucky takes the idea of friendship a little too far, deciding that no one can be friends with Andy but him.
As you can already tell, the scenario here is quite a bit different from the original Child’s Play. By introducing an older, lonely Andy, the bond he forms with Chucky in the beginning is much more heartwarming, and ultimately, tragic. We get the idea that Andy has never been good at making friends, as his single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), is insistent he at least try this time around in their new place. So when Andy is given a Buddi doll which is “defective” like himself (Andy has a hearing aid), their growing bond is believable and charming. In fact, if I had my own Buddi doll, it might come close to replacing my dog. Buddi is as real of a friend as an AI can get. There are even moments where my entire theater uttered “awe” at some of the sweeter, more comical moments with Chucky. This is not your ugly, creepy Chucky doll from the 80s.
What I’m getting at here, is that the new Child’s Play has a heart that the original didn’t. And before you go nuts, calm down, the original is one of my favorite movies of all time. But this new version is the sort of film that makes you smile before literally ripping your face off, as happens to one unfortunate character later on. As Chucky consistently asks Andy, “Are we having fun yet?”, and you bet your ass we are. Aubrey Plaza turns in a wonderful as always performance as a young, struggling single parent who allows Andy to be more on her level, Bateman is sweet and endearing, and Hamill absolutely kills it as Chucky. Throughout the first half, Hamill toys with our heartstrings with a performance that manages to separate himself from the legendary Brad Dourif. Chucky will make you laugh as much as he will make you scream. Watching Andy teach Chucky how to make a scary face is a delight, and seeing Chucky employ that face is even better. Child’s Play is unapologetically funny, most of it intentional, and forces the audience to let their guard down. Hearing Hamill sing the Buddi song is my new favorite theme, because how often are we ever going to hear Luke Skywalker sing strangely threatening nursery rhymes?
I know, I know, I’m talking so much about how charming Chucky is, you’re starting to think this is just a cute Child’s Play movie. It’s not. Child’s Play is surprisingly violent, easily more so than the original film. A murderous doll with the ability to connect to drones, thermostats, self-driving cars, and more makes for one hell of an adversary, and sets the film up for some playfully gruesome kills. To give you an idea, at one point, Chucky sees Andy and some other kids watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and laughing, and decides oh, blood and violence is fun! Maniac see, maniac do, I guess, because the kills in Child’s Play come close to achieving that Texas Chainsaw level of bloodshed. Child’s Play is a 90s style slasher, slick and stylish, with a concoction of humor and gore that goes down smooth. There are moments, especially the finale, where it feels like the filmmakers hold back too much, and the film isn’t particularly scary, with the sort of scares that include a literal “boo” scare, but Child’s Play makes up for a lack of atmosphere with entertaining mayhem that is playtime for horror fans.
Child’s Play is such a good time that its one ultimate malfunction may be in calling itself a Child’s Play film. Many fans, including myself, were immediately turned off when the film was first announced, not just because it was a remake, but because it was giving the finger to the franchise’s creator, Mancini, who is currently still keeping his own version of the series going strong. There are going to be a lot of fans who hate Hamill’s Chucky simply because he is not the Chucky we know and love. It’s a shame, because had this film been called literally anything else, I think it would find itself with a lot more admirers than it will with such a large fan base comparing it to the originals. Child’s Play has its flaws, but it in no way deserves the sort of hatred I suspect it will get from those wanting an old fashioned Chucky film.
Either way, love it or hate it, Child’s Play is better than anyone could’ve hoped for, and with a tremendous score from Bear McCreary that is going to have you humming “You are my Buddi” for weeks. Go in without expecting a standard Child’s Play film, and you’ll find a new Buddi in Hamill’s Chucky.
By Matt Konopka