For fans of slasher movies, the 1980s will always reserve a special spot in their hearts; from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series to Friday the 13th, it was undoubtedly a decade filled with genuine and original scares. In 1988 came Child’s Play, which while never on the same level as a Wes Craven or John Carpenter creation, still managed to leave its impression on viewers with a successful franchise and the infamous killer doll Chucky at its center.
31 years later, the original Child’s Play has been “remade” for 21st-century audiences, attempting once more to cash in on nostalgia. The word remade has been placed in quotations because while the title character is the same, his very reason for being is drastically changed; This 2019 version, directed by Lars Klevberg, is essentially a complete rewriting of the story with very little in common with the 1988 original. With this, it becomes clear that the filmmakers were not confident in their ability to tell an original story and so decided to tack on the character of Chucky to once more take advantage of nostalgic feelings.
If this film had been a wholly original work it certainly possesses the potential to be thought-provoking, but by latching itself on to the name of Child’s Play it ultimately becomes a letdown. Does the film want to be a remake or does it want to do its own thing? This Child’s Play has new material but virtually no similarity to any of the 1988 film and subsequent series, which may lead to the sentiment of being ripped off. There is a clear ploy to attract viewers with the promise of seeing Chucky, and while he still goes on a murderous rampage, this is most definitely not the Chucky that became a horror icon.
Undoubtedly the most glaring change in this film is the very essence of Chucky himself; in the original series, serial killer Charles Lee Ray sent his soul into a doll as part of a voodoo ritual, thus creating the most unlikely of murderers. It was precisely this fact that made Chucky such a creepy and unique figure, complete as with Freddy Krueger with clever one-liners and a sadistic sense of humor. 2019’s Chucky (as voiced by Mark Hamill) has literally lost his soul, as the Charles Lee Ray storyline is completely dropped. Instead, the new Chucky is merely a malfunctioning Buddy doll from a factory in Vietnam; he has no reason to kill other than faulty wiring.
While the idea of having a Siri like device or toy turn on its owners is definitely intriguing for our current times, this is not what Child’s Play is supposed to be about. If the filmmakers wanted to make a movie about technology going rogue and turning homicidal, that could have been an effective horror flick on its own merit; instead what we see is a strained attempt to make an interesting premise conform to the narrative of a series that is totally different. Consider the name Chucky for instance, while it obviously fits as a pet name for Charles, in this film a system glitch causes the doll to call himself the name randomly. There’s no reason for him to have that name other than forcibly trying to relate to the original with a story that goes in the opposite direction. Rather than a vengeful killer doll, we have a defective piece of software that while still menacing, does not have the essential villainous appeal.
Mark Hamill reliably delivers, again proving just how valuable a good voice over performance can be. One can only wonder how much better suited he would have been had he played a character similar to the one brought to life by Brad Dourif. With the material he’s given, Hamill makes this Chucky as scary as possible, but without the soul of the serial killer within him, this Chucky is, in the end, a mechanical being, rather than a perverse character. There is nothing of note with the remainder of the cast, including Aubrey Plaza who is awkwardly placed in the role of a single mother.
As for the kills themselves, they are predictably gruesome and inventive, yet simultaneously nothing particularly memorable. Perhaps if this murder spree was conducted by a character other than this Chucky knock-off, they might have been more effective but as it stands there is nothing any scarier in this movie than the rest of the series.
In the end, however, it wasn’t just the kills that made the Child’s Play series stand out, it was its heart (in this case an evil one). The latest Child’s Play’s greatest sin then is its conspicuous lack of heart and its near-total deviation from its source material. There was a chance to make an original horror film about our over-reliance on technology and the potential negative effects it could have, but instead, the producers decided to take this commendable idea and wrap it around an 80s icon. The end result is an underdeveloped original concept and a very poorly made “remake” of a pop culture favorite. If only they would have had more confidence in their own unique story. While somewhat of a cliche, 2019’s Child’s Play can be easily summed up by the phrase “You can’t have your cake and eat it too“. The filmmakers wanted to create a new story but also capitalize on nostalgia, which in the end failed on both fronts. Poor old Chucky deserved so much better.