Review: Child’s Play (2019)

Directed by Llars Klevberg, written by Tyler Burton Smith and based on the 1988 original. A mother gives her 13-year-old son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature. Starring: Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Carlease Burke, David Lewis, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio and Marlon Kazadi with Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky.

One of the rather immediate issues with the film that can have a large impact on your enjoyment of it, is whether you can believe that a toy would be made with the capability of murder and all you need to do to make that possible is disable its safety features. Of course you always have to use your imagination but the explanation of Chucky’s sinister side may by too simple for some, a choice reminiscent of something from the Friday the 13th franchise, but to better enjoy it, it’s something you have to let go. A nice distraction from that potential disappointment soon appears in the form of the beautifully sarcastic and apathetic Aubrey Plaza as Karen, the mother who unwittingly supplies her son with a murderous doll after it’s returned to the store she works at because of its eyes that turn red. You couldn’t really ask for more of an ironically red flag but as is the case with all horror films, it isn’t questioned and leads to a lot of creepiness, chaos and carnage.

A lot of the film hinges on their lead being a 13-year-old boy but having appeared in both Lights Out and Annabelle prior to this film, Gabriel Bateman definitely had a leg up on the horror requirement. While a lot of his performance as Andy does just ask of him the normal behaviour of a boy his age, the teen angst and disdain for his mother’s obnoxious new boyfriend but when things heat up in its latter moments, he has to unleash some real emotion and Bateman does surprisingly well. It’s always a pleasant surprise to have a horror film where none of the performances feel over the top or unconvincing and happily that’s what you get with this reboot. It does help that they pulled in supporting cast in the form of Brian Tyree Henry and Carlease Burke, both of them bring a role to Andy’s life that he’s missing, a father and grandmother, not to mention that they’re both very enjoyable to watch. Plus, every young horror lead needs some backup which he finds in the form of Pugg (Consiglio) and Falyn (Kitsos), who provide a little extra humour and plenty of help in his time of need. What could really need to be said about the voice of Chucky? Getting Mark Hamill to voice anything is a brilliant choice and this is no exception, he’s perfectly disturbing.

One of the areas where the film could have easily fallen short is the violence, it’s no good having a threatening robotic doll if it doesn’t do any damage, but it’s fair to say Chucky goes far enough to do some nicely gruesome harm. It’s a good balance struck by the direction and effects to go far enough with the violence that you may want to look away but using it relatively sparingly to not spring into an 18-rating territory, it adds just the right amount and any more would have been unnecessary. The story itself is fairly simple, Chucky becomes violent in a misguided attempt to please his owner, then when he’s pushed to one side, he acts out. It would be obvious to say it’s been done before because it’s a reboot but at the same time, that’s a big part of the issue, other than making him A.I. instead of your average doll, and throwing in some drones, it doesn’t have a lot more to add. Accordingly, there simply isn’t a huge amount to say about its story because it is what you expect it to be, it’s not exceedingly predictable but there’s nothing that’s too much of a surprise, other than it might put you off eating watermelon for a while. There’s a few good comedy notes but it would have been great, and added a more modern or new feel to it, to lean into that more and really pull from the ridiculous nature of the situation, it attempts to do so but without taking any real risks.

Child’s Play hits all the regular horror notes of violence, dark humour, gore and threatening behaviour but doesn’t have any originality to throw into the mix. It’s extremely well cast but despite that, it can’t quite go full throttle, it has the right elements but doesn’t quite use them to create something that’s a more memorable experience. Drawing from a well that’s been used to make six other films, you need to add your own spin and while they do try to modernise the story, it isn’t enough. It’s likely more worth watching for those who aren’t familiar with the existing series, it’s not something you’re necessarily going to want to return to but it can scratch an itch for some easy entertainment.

Verdict: ✯✯½ 

Available on Netflix now

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