In the world of Child’s Play, Buddi dolls are the ultimate plaything. These toddler-sized kid’s toys are, in essence, quasi-sentient iPhones that can walk. What could possibly go wrong?
Buddi dolls cost a lot of money, and working-class single moms like Karen (Aubrey Plaza) can’t afford them. So, when Karen manages to snag a used one for her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), nobody minds that it’s a bit banged up. Andy, we’re told, has trouble making friends. But he bonds with his Buddi doll Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill), right away. Mostly because Chucky’s haywire software creates unique personality quirks.
Chucky’s new “evil” origin is the most batshit insane part of the movie. In the original Child’s Play, a fatally wounded murderer named Charles Lee Ray uses voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll as though it were serial killer SoundCloud. The reboot revamps Chucky’s origin for the iPhone age. Here, a pissed-off sweatshop worker hacks into Chucky’s programming and turns off the safeguards for little things like bad language, obeying commands, and oh yeah, murder. Chucky 2.0 leaves the assembly line like a loaded gun with a hair trigger and no safety.
As the two buddies spend time together, Chucky picks up some of humanity’s bad habits. Rather than an evil killing machine, he’s more like a child copying what he sees. And Andy lacks the parenting skills to keep his self-aware little friend in check. Before long, Chucky gets protective of Andy, and he’s willing to do anything to keep his friend happy. You know where this is all headed.
Growing up in the ‘80s (Child’s Play came out in 1988) parents scared their kids silly over things like stranger danger. They taught kids never to let their guard down once they left house, or they might get murdered. They gave stern advice like, “Look over your shoulder when someone’s too close behind you, avoid sketchy-looking strangers, and always lock the door when you return home.” From an early age, we’re trained to fear the scary thing lurking outside. Child’s Play brought those outside terrors home.
The original Chucky is a cute doll with a child’s innocent voice, something most people would accept into their home with open arms. That this harmless looking toy was a ruthless killer and right under people’s noses made the premise more chilling. Perhaps the thing to fear didn’t look scary?
Child’s Play 1988 dared us to ask if the good guys weren’t so good at all. The idea called into question whether our neighbours, teachers, and religious leaders can’t be trusted either? The original Chucky doll is literally called a Good Guy doll. The metaphor couldn’t be any more on the nose.
The decision to make Chucky 2.0 a menacing-looking Buddi doll is Child’s Play at its smartest and most scathing. Right out of the box, this new Chucky looks like an abomination. The only natural reaction to seeing him is to question why anyone would let this hobgoblin-looking machine within a city block of where they sleep. Adding to Chucky’s creep-factor, his sinister voice. Instead of an adorable kid, he sounds like an old man imitating a child. It’s the voice you imagine coming from the neighbourhood sex-offender if they tried to sound non-threatening.
Chucky 2.0 speaks to our toxic obsession with technology. We’re junkies in need of a fix so bad we look don’t care where it comes from. Embracing the fugly little Chucky doll is like someone dropping a piece of cake on the floor and eating it anyway. Child’s Play tells us that people put on blinders to avoid accepting the obvious perils that come with modern technology. It’s a half-baked social commentary, but at least director Lars Klevberg has more on his mind than raising Chucky’s kill-count.
Child’s Play takes its time leading up to Chucky’s carnage. But when the violence hits, you better put on a rain slicker. Things get messy. Klevberg wrings every last drop of blood out of his B-movie playground. One gruesome murder involving a buzz saw wouldn’t be out of place in a Saw movie. The brutal violence continues escalating and sets the stage for a third-act bloodbath.
Child’s Play boasts a solid cast who commit to the camp-tastic premise. Plaza brings her signature deadpan to the role of Karen. She conveys just enough warmth towards Andy to convince us she’s a nurturing mom – it helps that she isn’t written as mother of the year material. Bateman is fine as the poor young schmuck who ends up the apple of Chucky’s eye. And Henry stands out as a world-weary detective tracking Chucky’s reign of terror. His beaten-down cop enters a crime scene most worried about getting blood on his new sneakers. I would back a Kickstarter to fund a movie about Detective Mike Norris tackling supernatural cases. More Brian Tyree Henry is never a bad thing.
Child’s Play skewers our tech-obsessed society without saying anything profound. The film thinks it’s dropping knowledge by saying we spend too much time on our phones. It’s like the kid who wants a pat on the back for showing up to their exam on time.
This movie says that technology run amok will be the death of us, but based on what transpires, not all of us have it coming. If Child’s Play wanted to teach viewers a harsh lesson, bad things would happen to good people. Instead, Chucky’s victims deserve their violent ends (at least by horror movie standards). The movie serves up some savage karmic backlash towards the most awful people; cheaters, bullies, and voyeurs.
Child’s Play doesn’t take itself seriously and embraces its kooky sci-fi premise. This reboot tracks like a less thoughtful version of Black Mirror, but with a cranked up vicious streak. It’s cheeky but not irreverent, creepy but not scary, and judgemental but not insightful. Klevberg finds the tonal sweet spot for a slasher flick about a deranged doll but doesn’t elevate the material. But he doesn’t lay down a giant turd, either. Which is high praise by horror remake standards.
Does this movie need to exist? Probably not. But it’s a fun watch if you go in with few expectations. Fans of the long-running Child’s Play series will only see a slight resemblance to the movies they love. Everyone else will find a violent, dark comedy masquerading as social satire.