Don’t mess with perfection. That old adage applies across all creative endeavors, including motion pictures. You wouldn’t really try to redo The Wizard of Oz, and I still cringe when I think of the 1998 remake of Psycho with Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Iconic horror movie villains deserve their protection as well. Freddy Krueger just wouldn’t be the same without Robert Englund. Similarly, Chucky only lives because of the voice work of Brad Dourif. One of my favorite movie quotes of all time comes from Child’s Play 3, as delivered by Chucky: “Don’t fuck with the Chuck.” Unfortunately, some producers decided to mess with Chucky’s legend. Child’s Play takes a stab at rebooting the horror franchise, but it misses the mark and only leaves flesh wounds in its feeble attempt.
Director Lars Klevberg and writer Tyler Burton Smith collaborated on this project as their first major movie. Perhaps their status as newcomers leads to this lukewarm film. I’d more likely blame their approach to “update” Chucky and forget why the original film worked as both a horror flick and a mystery. Single mother Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) works at a retail store and does what she can to take care of her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). She gets the opportunity to bring home the high-tech Buddi doll for Andy. This Internet-connected doll imprints on its owner and learns over time. Andy’s doll suggests the name Chucky. A lame explanation for why Andy’s doll is evil eventually causes Chucky to kill people with Andy getting the blame and the interest of Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry). Andy fights back against Chucky to try to save his mother and others, while Chucky just wants to wreak havoc.
I would watch Plaza in almost anything, and she excels in quirky roles like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the little gem Safety Not Guaranteed. She puts her take on the mother role and has to endure a lot of pain at the hands of Chucky. Bateman has a long list of credits, yet I haven’t seen any of his other work. He succeeds here despite Andy’s hearing impairment that goes nowhere in the plot. It was a surprise to see Tim Matheson appear as the head of the corporation that makes Buddi and all kinds of other appliances. I thought that I spotted Jack Black. Actor Trent Redekop bears a striking resemblance to him, which served as a distraction in some early scenes until I realized that it wasn’t Black. Mark Hamill supplies the voice of Chucky, and although he has done a lot of voice-over work in the past, his take on Chucky is surprisingly understated and boring. Perhaps he was going for slightly creepy, which works for his performance of “The Buddi Song” jingle for the Buddi commercials. Chucky needs to establish his presence through his voice even if you don’t see him, and nobody other than a copycat would be able to do that better than Dourif. This reboot might have entertained more with Dourif. On paper, Hamill might have been a good choice. He wasn’t pushed enough by the director to craft a distinct voice for Chucky.
The voice work alone doesn’t sink the film. In the original, nobody believed Andy when he said that Chucky was alive. Here, Chucky animates, jumps and “shows himself” without any concern about who sees him. In the first flick, the crook trapped in Chucky’s body was limited to what a real doll could do. This film’s Chucky has powers beyond those limitations with moves like super jumps. An Internet-connected Chucky leads to lazy writing where Chucky can control TVs, drones and anything else similarly “plugged in.” These skills make Chucky more like Krueger in that there’s no way to stop him as long as he can find a path to the Internet. When I first saw the doll design, I thought it was a joke. Perhaps the ugliest doll that they could have created, Chucky almost looked unfinished with its weird proportions and creepy eyes. The original Chucky was cute as a doll and sinister when it went evil. This doll looks awful at every point in the film.
Some positive points keep Child’s Play from being a total disaster. Plaza’s performance ranks as one of the pluses. Composer Bear McCreary adds to his impressive résumé that includes the music for The Walking Dead. In addition to lots of TV episodes and video game soundtracks, he has contributed scores to recent films like Hell Fest and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Horror fans will love the bloody and creative death scenes. If the same effort had been spent on the rest of the movie, this might have been a better experience. The marketing team may have outdone the filmmakers because a series of excellent posters show the aftermath of Chucky killing the toys from Toy Story 4, which came out on the same day. Brilliant!
We don’t need more remakes. I wish that Hollywood would figure this out and spend their energy on creating new characters, new horrors and new franchises. There were seven films in the franchise for a reason, and this disappointment doesn’t offer a reason to continue the series. At one point, Chucky’s finger lights up like E.T., and I could only think that the filmmakers gave a different finger to moviegoers with this Wi-Fi wise guy who needs to go back into his box.