My biggest complaint these days is how weirdly safe and sanitized everything feels. There aren’t a lot of movies challenging or pushing their respective genres into new places. Horror films in particular have become boring. Every so often we get something entertaining, like Jordan Peele’s overrated-but-entertaining “Us.” Most of the time it’s a regurgitated “Conjuring” or a spinoff.
Horror films used to be ugly and reveled in the putrid, violent and dark landscapes through which they allowed audiences to wade. The genre is far removed from the heyday of the ‘70s and ‘80s when, on any given weekend, hunting dumb teenagers with Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Pinhead, Candyman and a dozen other super creeps could be had, with gruesome, bloody murder becoming a marginally entertaining formula.
It was in this bloody, fertile crescent of horror that produced “Chucky,” the living doll that becomes possessed with the soul of a criminal and starts killing people in the 1988 classic “Child’s Play.” It was a perfect blend of laughs and screams that spawned a half-dozen sequels and a few terrible imitators. No one would accuse the franchise of being masterpieces of modern cinema, but they were extremely entertaining and filled with a lot of laugh-out-loud moments.
Like everything else nowadays, Chucky has been rebooted in 2019’s “Child’s Play,” which tinkers with the premise and achieves some of the cheap thrills of the original series. Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a young kid dealing with the brutal realities of poverty. His mom (Aubrey Plaza) is a minimum-wage slave, trying to balance being a single, working mom. She seizes an opportunity at work and grabs one of the coolest toys for kids: A computerized smart-doll named “Buddi.” Unfortunately, the doll has been tampered with and had all safety protocols removed by a sadistic factory worker. Instead of Andy getting a new best friend, he gets an obsessive, super-creepy sidekick who chokes cats and plays jokes with butcher knives.
It’s a nice modern-day setup for the franchise. The idea of a virtual best friend becoming a murdering nightmare has a lot of potential for a cheesy horror movie. While not as entertaining as the original, the new “Child’s Play” manages to create some really good scares and a lot of laughs. The material is appropriately played, with a tongue firmly planted in its plastic cheek. 2019’s Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) isn’t quite the scene-stealer or iconic fictional murder doll as the original. There’s an unsettling design to the doll that makes him appear more visually creepy rather than infused with overzealous personality as done with the original Chucky. 2019’s version leans into the expressionless, wide-eyed gape of a soulless toy.
The cast is equally deadpan, never really devolving into the kind of scream-queen melodrama normally found in this kind of schlock. There are shallow attempts at introducing a few ancillary characters to the mix, but they’re all the kind of stock meat bags required to give the real star of the movie someone to stab. They might as well list them in the credits as “Potential Victim.”
The film achieves a kind of Tim and Eric-style awkward comedy that works perfectly for a movie about a killer robot toy. There are genuinely uproarious moments of absurdity in the film that will be appreciated by those who can laugh at the insanity of dramatic scenarios featuring a homicidal toy.
Folks looking for something deeper or some “Black Mirror”-like dissertation on the impact of technology on our kids should keep looking. “Child’s Play” is pure exploitation—silly, bizarre and ultimately forgettable. It isn’t exactly an upgrade but does just enough to make the cut.