Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Child's Play is a 2019 reboot of the original 1980's horror classic by the same name and . . . it's honestly not bad for a reboot. In fact, I'm shocked that I actually liked this film. It's not the kind of film I would watch twice, but it wasn't a bad movie, either.
If you've read any of my articles here, then you know I constantly turn my nose up in disdain at reboots, so this is a huge compliment coming from me. A reboot I actually like!
And I'm a fan of the original series, so impressing me was always going to be hard. Good job Tyler Burton Smith (writer) and Lars Klevberg (director). Good job.
For some background (about me, not the films), the original Child's Play film came out in the 80's, a couple years after I was born.
One night, the rest of the family stayed up late to watch movies. I was made to go to bed because I was too little. I crept out of bed, hid behind the couch, and watched the movie anyway. The movie playing was Child's Play and it was the scene where Chucky kills John, the man who taught him voodoo.
Rather than being scared out of my brain, I was intrigued (I mean, when you're raised by a narcissist, there isn't much that can scare you . . .). In the years that passed, I kept watching every film as they were released. The first two were spectacular. The third was meh. The two after that were funny but . . . the series was clearly declining in quality.
Then in 2017, while I was still bleaching my eyes from the gratuitous sh*tfest that was Cult of Chucky, it was announced by Mancini that the series was getting a reboot. I had already noped on out after "Cult" and when I heard this I dismissed it.
After years of watching the movies go downhill, I was no longer interested in any more "Chucky" films. Like all good things, it had come to an end. I was done. I mean . . .
One of the things that bothered me about the later "Chucky" films was the fact that Chucky was an animatronic doll. I mean . . . He had always been a doll. But the first films leaned more heavily toward using actors in costumes, while the last films leaned more heavily toward animatronics.
In the end, it made Chucky look fake and way less scary. So why would I be eager to see Chucky become an evil robot in the reboot? (As it turned out, though, Chucky being a robot actually worked for this film.)
So as you can see, I never intended to actually see this film, but it popped up on my Amazon Prime recommendations, and now here I am.
So here we go. Here is my review of Child's Play, the 2019 reboot.
The film opens with a factory worker getting fired by his very verbally abusive, physically abusive boss. Instead of coming back with a machine gun, he pranks the factory by giving one of the robot dolls sentience (how???). Then he kills himself.
Fast forward to America, where a young mother is working in Zed Mart, a toy store where the dolls are sold. And I'll admit . . . I was annoyed when I first saw her.
I mean, older actresses can't get work as it is. Why make Andy's mom so young? But then I realized that they were trying to appeal to a modern audience, and today's mothers are pretty young.
Also, Aubrey Plaza is like, thirty-six, so that's not too bad. It used to be a lot of actresses stopped getting work after thirty.
I actually looked at the trailer before bothering to watch the film, and I was really annoyed that Andy was so . . . old. Kinda of hilarious, right? I was annoyed that Karen was young and I was annoyed that Andy was old. But hear me out.
In the original Child's Play, Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) was a tiny little kid. He was five turning six. The fact that he was so tiny and innocent and squeaky-voiced was a large part of what made the films scary.
Because Andy was too young to fight back, you worried for him. Especially given how easily Chucky randomly killed adults. You watched this little boy have his life destroyed by a psychotic doll and you were terrified for him.
As Andy grew older, however, this became less effective. By the third film, he's big enough that the audience isn't scared. He can defend himself against a freaking doll. I mean, hell. Even Chucky recognizes this and moves on to a new kid! (One of the students at Andy's military school.)
And as a result, the third film wasn't nearly as scary. In fact, it was the first step toward the series becoming comedy-horror and not taking itself as seriously anymore.
So given all that, you can see why I was skeptical of a thirteen-year-old protagonist.
I think this is a large reason why they gave the new Andy a handicap (and why Nica was in a wheelchair, etc). It's because . . . how scary can the films be if the protagonist has a 90% chance of defeating the villain to start?
Villains in horror films are scary because they're always incredibly powerful and unstoppable. This is always proven wrong, obviously, but the illusion of their power is what makes them scary.
It's hard to be scared of a three-foot doll when it's trying to kill a half-grown teenager that could kick it away like a football. Also, it was interesting that they never used Andy's hearing impairment as a plot device. It was just kind of . . . there. Why give him that handicap if it never comes into play? Even Nica had that dumb scene where she got stuck in the elevator.
I once wrote a character with one arm who wore a robotic prosthetic (science fiction novel). She wasn't the protagonist, but I still bothered to make her disability count. At one point in the story, she loses her robotic arm and has to fight a difficult battle without it, proving how badass she is.
But to be honest, that was an adventure science fiction novel. The characters are supposed to kick butt in those. Andy wasn't supposed to be badass or even remotely competent. In fact, the beauty of him is that . . . he's just a regular kid.
I'll be honest. Because the first twenty minutes were so heartwarming (aside from the annoying, constant, excessive swearing), I thought this was going to be a sort of . . . robot and his boy story with a dark twist. That's exactly what it was. Except this isn't Big Hero 6. Andy isn't a genius or a mathematician or something. He's just . . . a lonely kid. He's sad and weird and no one understands him. He sits in his room all day drawing crap and doesn't have a clue how to go about making friends. In fact, he seems afraid to bother trying.
The film plays upon this by having Andy's friends assume (after Chucky starts killing) that weird Andy must be a serial killer. They abandon him. His mother also begins to think he's crazy, and the cop, Detective Mike Norris, (Brian Tyree Henry ) immediately assumes that the weird kid who squats in the hall must be his mother's killer.
Andy's sad weirdness is turned upon him by his confused robot doll, until at the end, Chucky says to him, "I was broken. I think you might be broken, too."
I won't lie: that line got to me. I think it's because I was (and am) that lonely weird kid who's always off alone drawing awkward crap. That line was so well-written, but the scene where it played out could have been a little more heartbreaking. That's what the writing needed. Just a tiny bit more feeling.
All that aside, Gabriel Bateman's performance was stellar. I enjoyed watching Chucky's manipulations drive him insane to the point of smashing flat screens with a baseball bat. And it helps that he looks like he stepped out of the 80's, straight from a Neverending Story film.
Speaking of which . . .
The Endless Callbacks
I loved that this reboot did so many callbacks to the original series. It was done to play on our nostalgia but it was subtle enough that I felt it worked. Sometimes it didn't work (and I'll get to that) but for the most part, it did.
For example, in the original film, Karen buys a Good Guy from a homeless man. In the reboot, a homeless man ("Go back to the streets where I found you!" is shouted at the guy when he is fired) gives Chucky (a Buddi doll) sentience (again . . . how???).
In both films, a homeless man is the catalyst for the events of the story.
Andy is constantly wearing baseball Ts and shirts with stripes. He's deliberately dressed like a nerd from the 80's to play on our nostalgia.
Looking at this film made me realize that I . . . basically dress that way. I guess I'm an 80's baby for life.
Shane (David Lewis) was Karen Barclay's sexist scumbag boyfriend. There's a point where he physically handles Andy (not okay) and tells him to (ugh) be a man (Come on. He's barely thirteen. . .). He is deliberately unlikable so that we kind of like and sympathize with Chucky, an innocent and confused little robot who thinks he's just protecting Andy.
Shane falls off a ladder, gets tangled in Christmas lights, breaks his leg, and crawls across the yard (all while his daughters obliviously listen to headphones on the other side of the window). The entire scene may or may not have been a callout to Final Destination 4, in which a racist guy gets dragged down the street while the song "Why can't we be friends?" plays.
I don't know why, but I immediately thought of that scene. And then afterward, Detective Norris remarks that a white man dying in a watermelon patch is "poetic" and I about died. So maybe it was a callout, after all?
Either way, it was definitely a callout to Phil from Child's Play 2.
Phil was Andy's adoptive father in Child's Play 2, and like Shane, he was both physically and emotionally abusive. He often enjoyed grabbing Andy and shaking him, and even once screamed that something was wrong with Andy and Andy was not his child.
In his death scene, he falls down the basement stairs (which are very ladder-like) after Chucky trips him and quips, "How's it hangin', Phil?"
Of course, Andy is blamed for the deed.
After Andy eventually discards him, Chucky always winds up with a black kid. . . lol. In Child's Play 3, Chucky realizes that Andy is too old now. He'll never get his body. So he tries to make friends with a black kid instead.
Later, in Seed of Chucky, he makes a funny joke about how he's "down" with being a "brother" after Tiffany decides that he should possess the body of Redman.
In the reboot, Chucky is discarded by Andy after he tries to kill one of his friends. Sad and not understanding, he clings instead to Omar (Marlon Kazadi), a black boy who winds up getting in a fight with Andy during the height of Andy's "madness" in the middle of Zed Mart.
I liked that they did this callback because it's . . . hilarious. But I didn't like that they needed to use Omar to make a Tupac reference. Really? It's like they needed to think of something "black" for him to say so they use this. But it makes no sense.
Omar is what? Thirteen? Why in holy f*ck would he care about Tupac? That's like if I wrote an entire article about the Temptations, even though I wasn't even alive when they were at the height of their fame. Hell, I think I was ten when Tupac died, and even at that age, he was not remotely important to me. I was more interested in The Lion King, really.
Only people who were old enough to understand the impact Tupac had on the black community (as a leader who pushed for social change and not as a "thug" they would have us remember him as) would give a crap about him now. All in all, the reference was unnecessary and smacked of, "Hmm. What would a black person say?"
They did better with the hilariously deadpan cop.
In Seed of Chucky, a technician opens Tiffany up with a drill after she malfunctions on set, unaware that Tiffany is alive and that being opened is excruciating. She and Chucky viciously behead the man and makeout in his blood. . . .while their son looks on, marveling that they are insane.
In the reboot, Chucky is opened up by the perverted complex's electrician, Gabe (Trent Redekop). The guy has cameras rigged in Karen's bathroom and spies on her in the shower. He is clearly scum, but this isn't the reason Chucky kills him.
Chucky is angry that he was basically tortured. The scenes where he's opened up (first by Andy and then by Gabe) are a little heartbreaking. He has a sad expression on his face and wiggles to get free like a child. He has no idea what's happening. In his mind, what's being done to him is evil and he doesn't deserve it.
When he finally gets free, he kills Gabe, while playing back a recorded line of Gabe saying he wanted to open Chucky up and see what was inside him.
Which brings me to my next point . . .
Was Andy a Bad Parent?
Chucky (Mark Hamill . . . yes, Luke Skywalker) is given sentience and is born the moment he is turned on by Andy. Because he is self-aware, he doesn't allow Andy to name him but names himself.
Chucky is wide-eyed, innocent, has no moral compass and is completely new to the world. Andy gets scratched by a cat in front of him, and the first time he sees blood, he is shocked and confused.
Instead of teaching Chucky right from wrong, Andy drags him along, meandering through the world behind him. While being with Andy, Chucky learns swear words, stays up late, is encouraged to terrorize and prank people, and watches horror films.
Considering the fact that Andy's mother was a teen mom, this is probably something Andy himself was used to. I'm not saying that teen mom's are inherently terrible parents. I mean . . . Andy himself turned out decent. But if Karen had been young, carefree, and a little too lenient, it makes sense that Andy, being only thirteen, would go by what he knew as a child.
Compound that with the fact that Chucky is a robot. No one seems to fully realize that he is sentient. Instead, he is treated like a cute thing that won't be influenced by the world beyond his programming. Only Andy's friend, Falyn, (Beatrice Kitsos) makes the observation that Chucky might be sentient and on the verge of robot rebellion.
So Chucky is born clueless into a world where his personhood isn't recognized. No one teaches him what is right and wrong, and when he does something wrong, he is punished horribly without anyone bothering to explain why. This makes him terribly sad, confused, and ashamed.
Now, I'm not saying that being exposed to horror films made Chucky crazy ("Scary movies don't make serial killers! They make serial killers more creative!") or that kids will be psycho if they aren't taught right from wrong. But the world, its media, and the way we are raised by our parents does have an effect on who we become.
As we see in the picture above, when Chucky kills Andy's (vicious asshole) cat, Andy doesn't explain why it was wrong. He completely freaks out, cries, yells, physically slams Chucky around, and throws him in a dark room.
What's worse, Andy never seems aware of this.
Chucky appears near Shane in the bathroom while playing a recorded line of Andy saying that he hates Shane. Shane confronts (aka abuses) Andy and storms out, leaving him to cry alone on his bed . . . just as Andy did to Chucky.
But Andy never makes the connection that, instead of nurturing and teaching Chucky, he is abusing and confusing him. Andy is a broken child raising a broken child.
In the end, I thought this film had its flaws but was wonderfully written. It was surprisingly heartwarming, bittersweet, and at times, completely hilarious. It's not the kind of movie I'd watch over and over, but I definitely wish I'd seen it in the theater with popcorn.