Title: ‘Child’s Play’
Director: Lars Klevberg (‘Polaroid’)
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry and Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky
Creating a stunning and powerful masterpiece can be an equally jolting and rewarding experiencing. The behind-the-scenes production of new technology can often lead to the success-or failure-of the project, no matter how good the intentions are for the product. That’s certainly the case for both the new Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven Buddi doll, as well the updated film it appears in, ‘Child’s Play.’ The eighth feature in the beloved slasher horror series, which was written by and directed by Lars Klevberg, is a remake/reboot of the original 1988 movie, which launched the franchise into success. While the new ‘Child’s Play,’ which Orion Pictures is releasing in theaters today, has some notable success as its own unique story, the behind-the-scenes tension between the new and original filmmakers unfortunately took away some of its charm and potential.
‘Child’s Play’ begins in the Vietnamese Kaslan Industries warehouse where the Buddi dolls are being assembled, where an employee is chastised and fired by his supervisor for not completing his work fast enough. In response, the employee uses the computer at his workstation to tamper with the AI-enhanced Buddi doll he’s assembling, including disabling all of its safety features and moral programming. As the newly dysfunctional doll is prepared to be shipped to a store overseas, the employee seemingly commits suicide.
The reprogrammed Buddi dolls ends up in Chicago, where Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman), who’s a few years older than the protagonist of the same name in the original 1988 movie, moves with his young single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza). Karen, who decided to move her and her son so that they could have a new start in the city, works as a clerk at Zed-Mart, which is gearing up for the upcoming release of the Buddi 2 line. After a customer returns the dysfunctional Buddi doll, as she wishes to get one of the updated Buddi 2 dolls, Karen convinces her boss to let her take the original home for free, as an early birthday present for Andy.
Andy is initially intrigued by the Buddi doll (the voice of ‘Stars Wars’ actor Mark Hamill), as he comes equipped with a smartphone app that allows him to digitally manipulate all Kaslan electronics. The doll, who names himself Chucky, imitates behavior he witnesses in real life and on TV, and also plays back audio clips of conversations he records.
While Andy initially bonds with his doll, as he’s hesitant to make friends with other teens his age in the neighborhood, his perception of Chucky soon changes after hearing the audio clips and witnessing the toy’s increasingly sinister actions. After targeting Karen’s condescending boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis), for bullying Andy, Chucky begins his killing spree, and sets out to eliminate anyone who mistreats, or even tries to be friends with, Andy. The teen relies on the help of the son of one of his neighbors in his new apartment building, Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry), who seems to be the only adult who takes his concerns and safety seriously, to defeat the killer Buddi doll, once and for all.
‘Child’s Play’s screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith and Klevberg deserve credit for updating the franchise’s backstory and reasoning behind Chucky turning into a killer doll, and distinguishing their story from the original 1988 film. The new remake is a gripping cautionary tale about America’s growing dependency on technology, and people relying on computers and AI to help them achieve their goals. Unfortunately, taking out the supernatural element of a serial killer transferring his soul into the Chucky doll that ends up with Andy takes away the menacing factor that made the original horror movie such a unique entry in the slasher sub-genre.
But the updated ‘Child’s Play’ redeems itself through several other elements, including the natural and captivating humor that Smith infused into the script. The writer effortlessly defused the tension and conflicts that Andy is forced to contend with in his life, from Shane acting arrogantly towards him to trying to fit in with the other teens in his apartment building, with striking humor. While many horror films that incorporate comedy into their stories struggle with finding a balance between the terror and humor, ‘Child’s Play’ powerfully uses its witty gags to momentarily tone down the stress that Andy’s facing, and remind viewers that he is battling a doll, after all.
While Catherine Hicks and Alex Vincent became an instant classic mother and son duo in the slasher sub-genre in the 1980s after they played Karen and Andy in the original ‘Child’s Play,’ Plaza and Bateman also deserve credit for their striking portrayals and chemistry on-screen in the new remake. Plaza intriguingly brings her signature disbelief and contempt about what’s going on around her to Karen’s overall demeanor throughout the majority of the drama, as the mother fails to see her son’s tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, as well as Andy’s growing concerns about the dangers of his new Buddi doll. The actress’ masterful command of sarcasm and 21st-century ambivalence replaces traditional parental concern for Karen’s son, who’s enduringly played by Bateman. The young actor, who has previously starred in other horror hits as ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Annabelle,’ is once again proving that he’s an intuitive performer who reacts on his instincts in troubling circumstances.
While the original ‘Child’s Play’ and its subsequent six sequels, which continued the story from the first film, will always remain a enthralling masterpiece in the horror genre, the new remake is an emotionally evocative entry in the franchise. The reboot has some redeeming qualities, including the natural and captivating humor that Smith infused into the script, as well as the compelling portrayals from Plaza and Bateman. While the new entry in the slasher series had some jolting production dilemmas to overcome, both in front of, and behind, the camera, the new ‘Child’s Play’ deserves recognition for its efforts-just not by the creepy new reiteration of Chucky!