To say the Child’s Play remake got off to a rough start is an understatement. A low-budget remake almost no one asked for, with the original creative team giving MGM a collective “fuck you” in response to it? Needless to say, I walked into the theater with low expectations, braced for yet another soulless horror remake in the long string of such films. Yet a part of me was hoping that this new take on the killer doll formula could just maybe succeed as its own branch in the Chucky franchise.
And surprisingly enough, it almost does, yet falls just a tad short (much like its diminutive killer). In a new twist, the film decides to forego any of the serial killer voodoo mumbo jumbo and rather present us with a smart-home horror. What if your Amazon Alexa was an AI-controlled Doll? And what if the underpaid east Asian worker assembling your doll decided he was fed up with his 3 dollars a week and programmed it to kill you? If that concept doesn’t get a devious smirk out of you, then this is probably not going to be a fun hour and a half of playtime.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This doll shouldn’t be named Chucky. How the doll gets the name Chucky is so forced you can practically hear the MGM Suits saying, “But how can it be a Child’s Play movie if he’s not Chucky?”. Compounding the issue is the fact that this Buddi is one of the ugliest dolls ever conceived. It’s a real stretch to think that any child would embrace this thing rather than run away screaming.
Thankfully, the studio gets Mark Hamill to voice this new Chucky, and to his credit, Hamill gives us the film’s more clearly defined character. There’s at least a serious attempt to show Chucky’s descent into interpreting violence as acceptable (through a viewing of Texas Chainsaw 2, of all things); Hamill sells the confusion as the doll is locked up for actions he thinks should be acceptable, the betrayal when Andy attempts to disable him, and the rage as Chucky finally decides that if he can’t play with Andy, no one can.
The film spends the first 45 minutes kill-free, curiously choosing to build up the relationship between our stereotypically lonely kid Andy and his new Buddi doll. The dolls comes courtesy of Aubrey Plaza, who you can feel rolling her eyes in between takes as they go through the now-tired motions of a troubled household. Single mom who can’t connect to her son? Check. Deadbeat stepfather/boyfriend whose sole character trait is him going for beer in every scene? Check. Cute cat set up for the first kill? Check Checkity check. It’s to the movie’s detriment that this first act drags, leaving me checking the time.
But once the film finally gets to the kills, we are at last treated to some fun gore; the centerpiece being when a character’s face meets a mechanical garden implement. Subsequent stabbing, burning and sawing provide the movie with a much-needed boost; although a kill by an auto-driving uber is just a tad too ridiculous even for this film.
Sadly, just as things are ramping up, the movie takes a 10-minute detour to get into the subplot that maybe it’s Andy committing these crimes instead of the doll, with the local detective (Bryan Tyree Henry) starting to suspect his neighbor may be responsible for these deaths with child-sized footprints. Frustratingly, this thread has almost no payoff and yet the movie sits spinning its wheels while Chucky torments Andy for… reasons?
Well, a final-act massacre at the local toy store for the new Buddi doll release night both showcases some inventive kills while simultaneously revealing that this movie didn’t have the budge to pull off a final-act toy store massacre. Blood-splattered kids and razor-bladed drones zipping around provide some dark fun, but all too soon it’s off to the requisite finale that frustratingly chooses to emulate the original pretty much to a tee.
Child’s Play 2019 is a film with moments that want to make me defend it. The best part is Hamill’s characterization of Chuck, and he did his best to provide motivation for murderous plastic. The kills are pretty decent, there’s some fun dark humor, and the concept of an Alexa gone wrong is a good concept for a original Chucky film. Unfortunately, the film struggles to find the right pacing and tone; it just feels like there were too many hands on this production. The result: what could be a remake done right just dives right into just ho-hum slasher territory. I’d say it’s worth a rental if you’re curious, but there’s no reason to pick this over the Mancini original.