de facto film reviews 3 stars

With a remake of a film whose franchise is still going (and quite strongly, for that matter), the skepticism was real for this new adaptation of “Child’s Play”. Original creator, Dan Mancini, has taken his franchise in a creative new direction with a TV mini-series coming to the SYFY channel next year. With Mancini not involved with this project, plenty of us genre fans had even more fuel to add the fire that is this remake.

A Similar situation happened with 2013’s “Evil Dead” reboot. That film was met was critical and commercial success, then two years later, the original series continued with the show, “Ash vs Evil Dead”. However, in that scenario, the same creative team oversaw both projects.

Thankfully, this new “Child’s Play”, from the revamped Orion Pictures label, avoids rehashing the original films plot involving voodoo curses and instead focuses on the fear on modern technology, particularly AI (Artificial Intelligence). What begins as a “Black Mirror”-esque tale, eventually turns gruesome.

The “Kaslan” corporation is one of the world’s leading businesses, specializing in the “Buddi” doll. Your “Buddi” is a doll that can connect to every electronic in the house; he can turn on the TV, sing you a song (his favorite tune is his “Buddi Song” that WILL get stuck in your head), he can also help you with your homework or tell you a joke. Buddi, or “Chucky” as his owner, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), names him, is a toy doll that also doubles as a more advanced Siri or Alexa. When Andy’s struggling mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza, in a successful bid of against-type casting) gives him a previously used “Buddi” from her workplace at “Zed Mart”, a Wal-Mart knockoff, he initially scoffs at the idea, but later begins to bond with the doll. Andy’s relationship with Chucky is later complicated when Chucky becomes too infatuated with Andy; stopping at nothing until he fulfills his role of Andy’s “best friend till the end”. 

Stylishly directed by Lars Klevberg, this “Child’s Play” is an example of what a good remake should do: re-tell the original story with a fresh take, more creativity and with a purpose.

As our new Chucky, Mark Hamill is exceptional. Hamill, a decades-long veteran of voice acting, creates one of his best characters in Chucky. Replacing the great, Brad Dourif is far from an easy task, but what makes Hamill’s version standout so well is the fact that he’s not simply doing an imitation. This Chucky is never as crass or vulgar as we’ve previously seen, but instead goes for a more deliberate, eerie presence. He’s not as outright sinister, but more slowly menacing. 

In this version, Chucky is almost a tragic figure. The Chucky we’ve known for 3 decades was evil from the beginning. Hamill’s Chucky initially starts out with love and care for Andy, something that motives him into evil doings, but is ultimately a victim of faulty programming.

He certainly looks and sells the horrific side, but this Chucky’s new makeover never sells the cute and adorable side the original film managed to pull off. Chucky’s new look did eventually grow on me, but I’d be lying if I said I found him cute based solely off his looks. Further proof of just how impressive Hamill’s performance is.

Director Lars Klevberg realizes the darker tone of the original film and the campier tone of the sequels and blends them both to winning effect. There’s a consistently nasty and wicked sense of humor on display. The mix of pitch-black gallows humor and psychological terror go hand-and-hand so effectively. There are a number of well-executed (no pun intended) set-pieces that revel in viciousness. A prolonged bit involving a watermelon — yes, a watermelon —  is maniacally funny, whilst palpably suspenseful. It’s a sequence that had me simultaneously cackling and tense for minutes on end. You might be surprised to find that “Child’s Play” has some moments that are genuinely frightening. The film does overcook the jump scares early on, but eventually gives way to some hard-earned scares.

Klevberg steadily builds tension that lasts up until the gonzo finale that significantly ups the carnage. The climax, set in “Zed Mart”, is one of the craziest, no-holds-barred finales to a horror film in a good while. With shades of “The Cabin in the Woods” mixed with older 80’s titles I won’t spoil, the finale is a truly memorable set piece that have horror fanatics like myself grinning from ear-to-ear. 

The kills are also highly impressive, using almost all practical effects. Even Chucky, who’s an actual animatronic for roughly 80% of the film, looks fantastic. For hardcore gore hounds that are usually disappointed in most mainstream genre releases, this flick stands out in a big way.

This is a retro throwback to pulpy, 80’s slashers, but never feels derivative. Perhaps the biggest call back is to 1986’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, which factors into the story in a clever way.

Written by Tyler Burton Smith, the script is layered with amusing one-liners and extreme scenarios that fans will love, but takes its time with the main characters so that when Chucky goes on his inevitable rampage, we care about the repercussions. 

One of the biggest highlights comes from that of Bear McCreary’s boisterous score. McCreary, one of the most underrated composers working today, emphasizes the child-like qualities in the story by crafting a score utilizing mostly handheld instruments. Using toy pianos, rattles, slinkies, ukuleles, xylophones and even a kazoo to great effect; the score is unique and adds a great deal to the film.

Gabriel Bateman shines in a starring role that requires a great deal from the young actor. Making the Andy character a 13 year old tween instead of a 6 year old child was a wise choice, and after watching Bateman’s performance, it’s a choice that payed off.

Aubrey Plaza is great in a slightly against-type role as Andy’s younger, single mom. Plaza gets a few scenes early on that showcases her skilled dry humor, but as the film progresses, she effectively nails the dramatic material and creates a solid mother-son chemistry with Bateman. Brian Tyree Henry is also solid, if underutilized, as Andy’s friendly detective next door. It’s a role that’s not exactly one-dimensional or even thin, but doesn’t give Henry, an impeccable actor, much to do.

“Child’s Play” is a remake that isn’t slavishly beholden to the original, which may or may not divide some fans. The team behind this film understands the franchise it’s remaking and updates it for a modern audience with a clever new hook, fantastically gruesome kills, and a Chucky that actually frightens. Fans of the franchise should be satisfied and hopefully in the near future, we can have two continuing Chucky stories.