I’m not much of a horror movie fan, but I never considered the “Child’s Play” franchise to be scary. (Granted, I’ve not seen them all.) I even really liked one, 1998’s “The Bride of Chucky.”
I don’t think I ever watched a trailer for the 2019 reboot, but then again, I had no plan to watch it. I’d heard Mark Hamill was taking on voiceover duties for Chucky. Hamill is best known as Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” saga, but he also earned a whole new fandom voicing the Joker on “Batman: The Animated Series.” While I had no interest in the film, I knew Hamill would kill it as Chucky, no pun intended.
The story of the serial killer doll has gotten a very modern update. Chucky isn’t possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer. Instead, the doll is a tech company’s artificial intelligence toy called Buddi. The doll is able to learn and adapt as a child plays with it. The doll can learn a child’s interests, likes and everything else. It’s the ultimate Teddy Ruxpin, only a whole lot creepier. A disgruntled worker in a Vietnamese sweat shop — where the dolls are built — decides to wreak havoc on one doll, removing the language and safety controls that are normally built into Buddi’s software.
This brings us to single mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). She’s a clerk at the local Zed Mart and possibly in the running for worst mom ever.
I can’t remember if Andy’s dad is dead or just left because Karen is awful, but Karen and Andy are in a small, crappy apartment; and she has a rude, crappy boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), who doesn’t get along with Andy. With Andy’s birthday coming up, Karen snags a malfunctioning Buddi that a customer returns for his birthday. (Yes, she tells him it’s refurbished and might not work, but she also gives him a malfunctioning toy for his birthday. Did I mention that she blackmails someone to get it?)
Yeah, Karen isn’t a great human being, much less a mother.
Down the hall lives Doreen (Carlease Burke), whose son is Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry). Local kids call him “narc” as he walks past, and it makes him feel a little self-conscious because he came from these same streets. He develops a fondness for Andy, who spends a lot of time in the complex’s hallway trying to avoid his mom’s hookups, I mean hangouts. You see, Andy doesn’t have any friends. His mom actually tells him at one point he should go hang out with two kids standing in the rain on a sidewalk. Sounds like good advice, right?
It’s probably close to an hour before a human death occurs in the film. I clarify that because the film’s creators apparently aren’t cat fans. I don’t care if that’s a spoiler. If you’re a cat fan, like me, be prepared for three different disturbing moments in the first 45 minutes or so.
A good chunk of the film is spent building the relationship between Chucky, which is what Andy’s Buddy goes by, and Andy himself. He’s finally found a friend. As the story develops and he realizes his AI friend isn’t really a good doll, it’s a bit heartbreaking to watch as Andy tries to come to terms with the fact that Chucky must be stopped.
I admire the fact “Child’s Play” tried to go its own way. It truly tried to give Chucky’s character development — which isn’t something a bad guy really gets in horror movies — a chance. When he arrives at Andy’s doorstep, he truly believes Andy is his best friend, and he tries to make him happy. Andy hates the cat, so Chucky tries to fix the situation. He examines each thing Andy doesn’t like and tries to make it better. It’s safe to say that much of Chucky’s personality, for better or for worse, is a creation of Andy’s making.
There’s a good chunk of “Child’s Play” that doesn’t work. Plaza’s casting was a horrible decision. She’s a one-trick pony: a sarcastic, uninterested female. When you’re playing a mom in a horror movie about a killer doll that is going after your son, disinterested isn’t a great call. (If you need an actress who will huff and roll her eyes a lot while looking bored, give Plaza a call. She’s your girl.)
Henry is a bit wasted, as well, which is sad considering he’s proved to be a commonly used, but definitely a more-than-capable actor in the last year or so. Unfortunately, in this “Child’s Play,” the cop isn’t an overly important part of the story and comes off as being more of a cameo. The teenage Goonies of Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) and Pugg (Ty Consiglio) prove to be more interesting than he is.
Bateman might be the real gold medalist of the film. Hamill is only interesting because he’s Hamill.
Bateman sells his character, though. We feel his joy at finding a friend, his terror at finding a head and his sadness at finding a reason to kill. Honestly, the thing that sells this movie is the relationship between Andy and Chucky. Everything else kind of falls flat.
Bottom line: “Child’s Play” doesn’t really work as a horror movie. It’s a 90-minute movie with nearly one hour of buildup to the gore, scares and violence that most of its audience is likely there to see. It’s an interesting-enough premise, but I don’t know if the finished product is indicative of the brand or genre, in general.