CHILD’S PLAY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Lars Klevberg

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Carlease Burke, Tim Matheson, David Lewis, Trent Redekop, voice of Mark Hamill.

Gabriel Bateman in Child's Play (2019)

In 1989 the slasher thriller Child’s Play introduced us to Chucky, the toy doll (voiced by Brad Dourif) who was possessed by the spirit of a serial killer and embarked on a murder spree. The film became something of a cult favourite and yielded several sequels of varying quality. With both a new Annabelle movie hitting cinema and original writer Don Mancini planning a tv series based on the character of Chucky it seemed like a good time for filmmakers to jump aboard with this reboot of the character aimed at a more sophisticated and film literate audience.

The film opens in Vietnam as the Kaslan Corporation workshop where the company is preparing to ship out a consignment of Buddi dolls, a new high-tech next generation robotic version of a toy that is being advertised as the right companion for children. Buddi is a sentient doll that can connect to any electronic device and communicate with its owner. A disgruntled worker tampers with one of the dolls, shutting off its safety features before jumping to his death. As part of a shipment the defective doll makes it way to America where the toys are snapped up by eager consumers.

In Illinois we meet Andy (Gabriel Bateman, who has done lots of tv work and also appeared in Lights Out), a lonely deaf 13-year-old boy who lives with his single mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza, from tv series Parks And Recreation, etc) in an apartment block in a run-down neighbourhood. Karen works at the local Zed-mart store. Noticing that Andy is feeling a little sad she brings home an early birthday present – a Buddi doll that was returned by a dissatisfied customer. Andy names it Chucky, but finds it’s a little creepy and unnerving. But soon Andy warms to Chucky and he becomes a close companion.

But due to the earlier tampering, Chucky is soon overly protective of Andy and disposes of anyone who offends him, including his pet cat that scratches him, Karen’s smarmy new boyfriend Sean (David Lewis), and the apartment block’s sleazy maintenance man (Trent Redekop). Chucky learns his killing techniques from watching movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on television. Chucky can tap into electronic systems, which comes in handy when the malevolent doll begins his murderous rampage. As bodies begin to pile up, Detective Norris (Brian Tyree Henry, from Widows), whose aged and cantankerous mother (Carlease Burke) lives on the same floor as Andy and his mother, begins to investigate.   

With this reimagining of Child’s Play, first time writer Tyler Burton-Smith and Norwegian director Lars Klevberg (whose short film Paranoid has garnered plenty of attention) have also upped the gore factor, especially with the bloody finale in Karen’s store. The film moves away from the B-movie vibe initially created by Mancini and seems more inspired by the slasher horror genre of the 80s and 90s. It also dishes up a cautionary warning about the dangers of 21st century technology.

Chucky is effectively brought to life through a mix of CGI, animatronics and puppetry, and he is given a more grotesque and creepy appearance. Here Chucky is gleefully voiced by none other than Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill, who has done lots of voice work for animated series, including his role as the Joker in an animated Batman series. His vocal stylings add a touch of understated menace and malice to the character. Henry is great as the kindly detective Norris, while Burke brings some dark touches of humour to the material. Young Bateman is endearing and very good and brings a mix of vulnerability and strength to his role.

★★★

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