In the ‘Child’s Play’ Reboot, We’re All Connected…by Terror
Outrage over remakes and reboots of cherished properties from the 80s and 90s is just a part of our reality today. So when you take a franchise with a dedicated fanbase like Child’s Play (1988) and reboot it without the involvement or blessing of its creator and star voice talent, you’re bound to ruffle some feathers and face intense scrutiny.
CHILD’S PLAY ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Lars Klevberg
Written by: Tyler Burton Smith
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, and Mark Hamill (voice)
Running time: 90 min
Though maybe ill-advised and not at all requested, Child’s Play (2019) carves out a perfectly serviceable reboot for the Gen Z audience of today. Reboots and remakes need to be evaluated on their own merit, and if you were to go into this one without any prior experience with the original Child’s Play franchise, you might feel like you’re just watching a decent cross between Annabelle and Black Mirror. Open-minded fans of the original shouldn’t feel short-changed either, unless they’re expecting the outlandish exploits of the more recent series entries like Seed of Chucky. All in due time.
In this new version of the franchise, Buddi, the brand of doll the iconic Chucky inhabits, isn’t just a toy, but rather an integral product in a line of smart connected devices. Kaslan Industries serves as a fictional analog for an ubiquitous consumer tech company like Apple or Google that sells smart thermostats and robotic vacuums, among other gadgets. They even offer autonomous car-ride hailing and have Vietnamese factory laborers working themselves to death to build their popular devices. Yikes.
They market Buddi as a sort of gateway robotic companion with an onboard AI assistant for children to control their Internet of Things devices or help around the house. When an exhausted, disgruntled employee in the Buddi factory gets fired, he decides to override all the failsafes against violence in the code for the particular doll he was working on as a kiss-off before committing suicide. It’s a tasteless origin story, and bullshit when you think for even a second about how a factory worker would gain access to a code interface on an assembly line. But we’re talking about a reboot of a trash cinema slasher starring a sentient doll, so shrug emoji. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
A Boy’s Best Fiend
Struggling single mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) stumbles upon the hacked doll as a returned open-box item while working her dead-end service desk job at a Wal-Mart analog called Zed Mart. She decides to take it home as an early birthday gift for her lonely son Andy (Gabriel Bateman).
While it’s clear that the film wants to maintain the idea that Chucky is, in fact, a toy for the sake of preserving the premise of the original movie, make no mistake that this is a horror story about smart devices run amok. Almost every kill incorporates the idea of a connected device we now find commonplace. I still haven’t decided if I appreciate the audacity of this movie to include a thermostat kill or not, but the creativity of the gore isn’t really anything show-stopping. Instead, Chucky’s slow descent into bloodthirst keeps things interesting.
Despite the best efforts of the factory worker to create an evil doll akin to one possessed by the soul of a serial killer, Chucky functions normally until he imprints on the bad behavior and negativity of his owner. Struggling to adjust after a move to a new apartment and at odds with his mom’s boyfriend, Andy lashes out like the typical angsty pre-teen boy might. The idea that a killer doll would use machine learning to take its cues from its owner is a fresh way to adapt the premise for a world that’s still grappling with how Gen Z and millennials will develop in a constantly-connected digital world.
That small bit of thoughtfulness aside, there isn’t much more to expect here than the cheap thrills and laughs you may have already experienced back in 1988. Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry are their typical overachieving selves, while Mark Hamill does stellar voice work as usual.
If unpretentious horror, overalls, and huge chef’s knives are your thing, you’ll probably have a good time with this one. Just adjust your expectations for something that might feel like a spit-shined retread or might just remind you of when Monopoly decided to get rid of paper money.