Oh Chucky – what happened to you? In 1988, the first Child’s Play film was released, paving the way for the most iconic killer doll in cinematic history. And Chucky truly is that. Even today we have yet to see a possessed toy reach the same levels of success and infamy. Although our cinemas are now plagued by Annabelle and her various knock-offs, Chucky still remains to be the only true killer doll still wreaking havoc in the horror genre today. Unlike the always dead-eyed and immobile Annabelle, Chucky can walk, talk and kill you in the most creative way possible. And, the great thing is, his franchise is still alive and kicking now. The seventh instalment having been released only last year. There has even since been news that the character will also be getting his own television show, to be produced by SyFy. So the decision to also release a reboot to the character, when the character is still very much current in today’s society, is truly quite baffling.
But alas, the reboot has been made and released, and honestly it does very little to live up to the franchise that is still shocking and delighting fans to this day. Directed by Lars Klevberg, from a screenplay written by Tyler Burton Smith – the film was basically created behind Don Mancini’s (Chucky’s creator) back. And Mancini has been very open about his contempt for the project, seeing it as an insult to him and to the franchise that he has dedicated decades of his life to. Not surprising seeing as Mancini has not only penned all seven movies, but has also directed the final three – demonstrating just how committed he is the character and his story.
So already I was going into this film knowing that the original creator of the franchise hated it, and as a hardcore Chucky fan, I was on Mancini’s side. And a small part of me does wish that I could say that this film was a pleasant surprise to me – but it wasn’t. In fact, the film is an inconsistent mess that neither respects or understands the basic principles of its predecessor.
The film revolves around Andy (played by Gabriel Bateman), who has recently moved to a new apartment block with his mother (played by Aubrey Plaza). To cheer him up, his mother decides to buy him a Buddi, which is basically a robotic doll with the ability to connect to The Cloud and control all electric devices within its vicinity. But it just so happens that Andy has been given a doll that has been tampered with, making it able to swear, think and commit atrocious acts of violence. And already we begin to see why this story does not work, both as a reboot and as a modern horror movie.
Obviously the first Child’s Play movie was released in a time before the advent of technology such as smart phones or tablets. A time when children actually played with toys. One of the most popular of the 80’s being the Cabbage Patch Dolls, which the original Chucky doll obviously draws huge inspiration from. So it makes sense that a young child in that time period would crave such a doll for playtime, because there was nothing else. Now, children can connect to a whole world through a piece of metal in their hand, so the idea that they would still pursue such a creation is laughable. And it appears that the screenwriter knew this because he not only makes Chucky into a killer robot, but also into a walking Alexa, which really just adds to the stupidity of the movie.
The design of the new Chucky also falls into the same vain as Pennywise from the IT remake, in that he looks scary from the out-set, making it even harder to believe that families across the world would want one in their homes.
Beyond this, credit should be given to Mark Hamill for actually giving the character a well performed and sometimes creepy voice, which sounds almost child-like in its execution. However, it doesn’t hold the same range or gusto as Brad Dourif’s iconic performance, making it another element that simply pales in comparison. It also appears that there was some issues when it came to casting, because a majority of the characters here seem either miscast or just wrong. The biggest offender of this being Aubrey Plaza, who just appears too young to play the mother character. There is a case to be made here about how mothers are often portrayed as more mature women in media, but Plaza’s character doesn’t even make up for her age with a likeable personality. In general the character seems neglectful and disinterested in her son, which may simply stem from the fact that this is not the typical character Plaza is known to play.
In some ways I do wonder if the dynamic between Bateman and Plaza would have worked better is Plaza had been written as an older sister, having to care for her brother after the death of their parents. I say this, because this could have opened the door for an engaging and emotional arc for the character, who could have grown in maturity as the film reached its climax. But alas, the character simply lingers in the background, with Andy taking on the typical Jamie Lee Curtis role. And admittedly Bateman gives a strong performance, even though it does sometimes cross into the realm of melodrama – like literal tendrils of spit pouring from his mouth. Yikes.
Credibility should be given to the film in relation to its original and somewhat creative premise. There is the skeleton of an interesting horror movie here, it just sadly withers beneath the Chucky legacy. In many ways this reminds me of the Netflix show ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ which bore no similarity to the book it was adapted from. Making it feel more like they simply called it that to cash-in on a recognised horror property. The story here is original and engaging, but it feels like the producers only saw it gaining momentum under the name of an already established (and still going) horror franchise.
I was also shocked when watching the film when it appeared to be making a statement about cinematic violence and how that may negatively affect impressionable minds. This comes from a scene where the malfunctioning Chucky doll watches ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ with Andy and his friends. Of course the teenagers laugh at the slapstick gore and violence, causing Chucky to believe that attacking people could make his best friend happy. The message is one that is arguably merited, but not in relation to this particular franchise, which in the past has had a tumultuous relationship with the media. With a variety of Chucky-based movies being cited as the inspirations for several murder cases. Again, the message is one that should be addressed, but not in a film that has almost single-handedly proved it. The reference itself also feels as if it was the writer having a dig at the controversies that Chucky has had to straddle throughout his long career. Meaning that it comes off in bad taste, and stays that way throughout the film.
The film does remain to be one of the goriest horror movies that I have seen this year, which was definitely refreshing in our current horror climate – where the Conjuring films only deliver cheap thrills and no real character blood baths. But beyond that, this film a creative idea wasted on an unnecessary reboot. The next time I see a Chucky movie, I hope that it is one helmed by Mancini, as he truly is the only person who knows how to tame this killer doll.