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‘Child’s Play’ Review: A Spiritless Narrative Saved by Imagination

‘Child’s Play’ Review: A Spiritless Narrative Saved by Imagination

Just over 30 years after the original 1988 release that introduced a new pinnacle figure to horror culture, Lars Klevberg’s reboot of Child’s Play has brought Chucky’s infamy into a more modern age. Rather than being the spirit of a serial killer reincarnated, this Chucky possesses artificial intelligence and an intrinsic yearning for a best friend, which quickly turns sinister. Klevberg’s reimagining of the story of Child’s Play is creative in its intention, fulfilling in its action, but disappointing in narrative value and maintaining the essence of the icon that makes the original so legendary.

This film opens with Chucky’s brand new origin story: after being fired, a disgruntled factory worker changes the coding of one of the Kaslan Buddi dolls, removing all of its safety protocols and violence prevention. When the Buddi doll ends up in the Barclay household, it pursues its purpose of establishing a friendship with its owner far too zealously, and naturally, chaos and violence ensue. The inherent challenge of this film is the standard that has been set through the reputation and cult following of its predecessor. Child’s Play is undeniably different from the original in a variety of ways: some of which work well, while others do not.

Child’s Play – Orion Pictures

The story is unique in its imagination by introducing Chucky to life in 2019. A simple re-telling of the original would be highly disappointing, bland, and uninspired. The writers found a great way to conceptualize current themes into an older story. Artificial intelligence, the cloud, and the growing relationship between kids and technology are valid fears of modernity, and are translated successfully into the film. Chucky’s technological abilities could have easily been overwritten, and thrown into the realm of ludicrous, unfulfilling camp. Instead, they are grounded in a sense of reality that doesn’t feel too far away from technology’s current capabilities, and this works in the film’s favor. The audience can actually connect.

The establishment of a palpable relationship between Andy, played by Gabriel Bateman, and Chucky, voiced by Mark Hamill, is something else that is a successful amendment to the Child’s Play story. There is an arch to their “friendship”: a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is a mutual admiration that occurs between the two and this sets the stage for Chucky’s motivations. We are able to track and understand how their relationship changes and how that contributes to the overall story. Despite the questionability of his execution, at his core, Chucky’s intention is to protect Andy and be a loyal friend to him. The audience is able to understand this. This relationship is what drives the story forward. However, through this being Chucky’s singular goal, gone about in a singular manner, the plot becomes very vapid and repetitive. There are no surprises, and the audience never learns anything new.

Child’s Play – Orion Pictures

The formal elements of the film pay tribute to the original most prominently in the cinematography’s sprinkling of humorous POV shots of Chucky in action, but also contribute some very striking theatrical shots that are pleasing in their visual appeal. The score is successful, being appropriately sinister and in line with Chucky’s more childlike disposition. Yet, the acting and relationships between the characters are a significant fault. None of the performances stand out as being impressive or immersive, and I attribute part of this flaw to a lackluster script that doesn’t provide the actors with much to work with. Andy’s relationship with his mother, portrayed by Aubrey Plaza, is not compelling or emotionally in tune. His relationship with his friends, despite its inclusion of some comic relief, is even less believable. For these reasons, no genuine sympathy is garnered towards these characters, making it hard to truly root for them.

However, the absolute pitfall of Child’s Play is that all of Chucky’s original essence is abandoned. His origin story feels lazy, and is discarded as quickly as it’s introduced. It feels like an afterthought to explain a character that has already been written: to simply eliminate the plot hole of his existence before the audience even has the opportunity to wonder. The entire quintessence of Chucky’s iconicity in horror culture is his brilliant blend of humor, arrogance, and evil. This film’s Chucky is simply coding gone haywire. He doesn’t have a soul or a spirit. He has a motivation, but no true agency, and this renders him a dull and uncompelling villain. His story and his deeds fall flat as a result of an absence of any complexity behind them. He isn’t likable or captivating, because there is no personality to support the actions — no well-rounded backstory to complement his terror. This Chucky is a disappointingly insipid recreation.

Aubrey Plaza in Child’s Play – Orion Pictures

The film’s true saving grace is the action itself. With Hollywood constantly spitting out horror movies left and right, it’s easy for the violence to lack impact. Child’s Play shines through its provision of kills worth the viewer’s attention. Kills are not wasted, thrown away, or lazily written. They are engaging because they build tension. Some death scenes are more gripping than others, but every single one leaves an impression. The ferocity is shocking at times, though honorably reminiscent of the sense of humor the original encapsulated in its own brutality. The gore is quality and cringeworthy, leaving the viewer shrunk within themselves as they watch.

This movie is plagued by the expectations birthed from the audacity of rebooting such a classic, iconic film. Despite an underdeveloped narrative and the disposal of Chucky’s essence, the imagination and care put into the entertainment value of this film cannot be ignored. Child’s Play is creative, modern, and captivating in its action. And at the end of the day, the most imperative facets of a slasher movie are the tension and the gore, and this film surely delivers that.

★★★1/2

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