Child’s Play review : Surprise! It’s good!

An idea that proved itself so preposterously superfluous (considering the original franchise continues… and thrives!), spurs surprise with an update that’s not redundant or forgettable but fresh, impressive and worthwhile. Now all you’ve gotta to do is get past that niggly feeling that you’re cheating on the ‘other’ Chucky– hard, I know, he’s been so good to have us over the past 30 years.

Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg, producers of “Stephen King’s IT” redo, follow the same rule book here : add to the story we know, while throwing in some adroit new twists, and douse it all in a beautifully-shot, flair-doused look.

Furthermore, and like their successful update of “IT”, ‘KatzSmith’ have hired a filmmaker – in Lars Klevberg – that’s ostensibly out to make a theme park attraction – a fast moving, nerve-destroying thrill ride. You might also throw-up on occasion too (there’s gore… oh yes, there’s gore!).

Appropriately described as a ‘reimagining’, “Child’s Play” essentially tells the same yarn as the original – young single mother (Aubrey Plaza) gifts her son (Gabriel Bateman) a doll, albeit one that ends up killing people – but flips the switch on the core characters.

Firstly, Chucky, the deadly dolly, is now ‘evil’ only because he’s been fed a modified A.I chip. He’s the way he is because of humanoid boo-boo.

Young Andy is much older here – on the cusp of going through puberty – and so he’s at a much different place, with much different interests, to his ‘80s counterpart. He’s also got a band of young friends, all fixated on Chucky and using his ‘skills’ to their gain and delight, that he kicks around with.

Gabriel Bateman as ‘Andy’ in “Child’s Play”

Mike (Brian Tyree Henry), the kindly cop who helps take Chucky down, now only gets caught up in the situation because his mother lives down the hall from the two leads. Chucky’s victims – and would-be victims – are also different this time around, with everyone from a kindly old woman to the mother’s scumbag boyfriend on the doll’s sh*t list.

So yes, while the bones of Tyler Burton Smith’s script derives from Don Mancini’s original “Child’s Play” (1988) template, it’s also determined to carve from its own utensil drawer — not only updating the story to reflect today’s real-world fears but by changing many elements of the story so that it plays fresh and unpredictable.

The result is a film that plays not so much the morose killer doll flick from 1988, but a fun, bloody expose on the danger of technology (particularly apple’s all-linked smart technology) interlaced with the fun of “Short Circuit”, the spiffy-looking horror of the abovesaid “IT” and the macabre goofiness of Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” (1986).

Chucky, too, is a completely different beast than he is in Tom Holland’s film (and the countless sequels). And it’s not just his origin story and look that’s different, but his motivation (to protect his ‘best friend’ as opposed to thieving his soul) and personality – here, he’s more screw loose ‘Johnny 5’, a doll that knows no better, than killer-ingrained. “Star Wars” fave Mark Hamill is a perfect fit for the doll too, providing a voice that exemplifies the cutesy naivety of the character while also turning ‘devil’ mode up to 11 when the mayhem sets in.

Where the film loses steam is in it’s casting. With Catherine Hicks’ Karen Barclay (in the original) such a delightful, inspiring easy-to-root-for heroine, it’s slightly disappointing that Plaza’s version comes across only as a slightly irresponsible, white trash mother who is more interested in savouring an unhealthy relationship, than being there for her distressed son. Considering the third-act is built largely around Andy having to come to his mother’s rescue, it would’ve worked better had the latter been written and consequently played more affectionately. In this take, you won’t much have her back.

Aubrey Plaza and Gabriel Bateman in “Child’s Play”

Some of the other supporting parts – in particular Henry’s underwritten officer Mike – are also not as well-written or fleshed out as they needed to be. When there’s no ‘care factor’ for the characters we’re supposed to barrack for, the film becomes less of a story we’re involved in and more of an impressive effects showreel.

What “Child’s Play” 2019 – “It”, Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”, David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”, Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” and very, very few other horror updates – prove is that two incarnations of the same property can successfully exist, entertain and appeal in the same world so long as they’re both ladled from different ingredients and sprinkled with disparate trimmings.

In this case, the original ’88 flick is still superior – because it was so ground-breaking for it’s time, also genuinely frightening, but also it was easier to invest it’s characters – but you’ll be surprised how onboard with “Child’s Play” (2019) you will be.

Heck, maybe Chucky 1.0 and Chucky 2.0 can meet on screen sometime in the future?

The horror surprise of the year, “Child’s Play” is running on higher-powered batteries than most will expect.

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