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CHILD'S PLAY – ****

Directed by Lars Klevberg. Starring Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman, Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson. Horror, USA, 90 minutes, cert 15.

Released in UK cinemas on the 21st June 2019.

 

Disappointed that Woody didn’t get stabbier in TOY STORY 4? Don't fret because Chucky's back, with shiny new packaging, and he's got your toy based bloodlust covered in this fun, and at times bizarrely sweet, reboot of the 1988 cult slasher.

 

The basic plot, ostensibly the same as the original, concerns single mother Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza playing against type but retaining her spiky oddball charm) who gifts her lonely 13 year old son Andy (likeable, and thankfully non-bratty, Gabriel Bateman) a state of the art 'Buddi' doll (excellently voiced by Mark Hamill, effortlessly switching between sweet and sinister); a smart tech gadget that talks, learns, and can control all your household devices. What could possibly go wrong? Andy, undeterred by the fact that it's a faulty returned item (and its glowing red eyes and slightly weird CGI looking mouth) quickly bonds with the toy that dubs itself Chucky. However, things soon take a dangerous turn when Chucky realises he has competition for his new best friend's affections.

 

This is a refreshing new take on Chucky whose origins are now more sci-fi than supernatural (no voodoo practising serial killers here). Chucky1988 was a vile self-centred murderer who wanted eternal life (and later a relationship with Jennifer Tilly). Chucky 2019 just wants a friend...at any cost. The original asked; 'What if my toy was possessed?’ the rebook posits 'What if ET turned out to be a bit of a dick?’

 

The director, Lars Klevberg, has acknowledged the ET influence (Chucky's glowing finger, Andy's familiar red hooded jumper). This highlights the reboot’s different focus in which it’s more concerned with playfully toying with tropes of 'outsider kid befriending a creature' films than indulging in psychological horror. There are even some surprisingly charming early bonding scenes but, instead of flying bike trips, it ultimately descends into cat throttling and brandished knives. Hamill omits the bitter sardonic anger of Brad Dourif’s Chucky, instead retaining more of a pleading childish innocence, helping overall to make Chucky a somewhat more sympathetic character. I was initially unsold on Chucky’s new CGI augmented design but it grew on me throughout and I ultimately wholly bought in to him.

 

The supporting human cast are also uniformly charming with special mention for Brian Tyree Henry as the kindly police officer who gets a couple of good laughs and a crowd pleasing hero moment.

 

A minor quibble is that the adding of smart technology to Chucky's arsenal was a good way of updating the story but the accompanying satire felt perfunctory. Also there’s a sequence seemingly making a glaring comment on the impact of violent films but this is not then followed up in any satisfying manner. It felt like the film-makers had some interesting ideas but they never go far enough in exploring them.

The 1988 original has an overall creepier vibe. There are a couple of fairly gory sequences in this reboot but it's never particularly scary and it leans more in to the comedy (one comic highlight involves a gift wrapped body-part), but it also isn't as outright bonkers as BRIDE and SEED OF CHUCKY. I actually found this a pleasant relief; it’s nice to watch a mainstream horror that's focused on fun goofy thrills in comparison to the glum self importance of THE CONJURING franchise and its imitators.

 

Some die-hard fans of Don Mancini's original franchise may be disappointed by the lack of Dourif and the jettisoning of Chucky's origins but, since Mancini is continuing his version on TV, the significant alterations to Chucky actually make it easier for the two versions to co-exist. Mancini's Chucky has now become too meta and self-referentially oddball for casual audiences to readily embrace but CHILD'S PLAY 2019 should appeal to wide audiences with its simple, yet effective, plot and crowd pleasing thrills and jokes.

 

Like a 'must have' Christmas toy CHILD'S PLAY is undeniably slickly made, giving you a fantastic couple of hours of fun, but due to a lack of any significant substance it will likely get pushed aside once the next big shiny distraction arrives. However, Chucky’s proven he's not ready to be donated to Oxfam yet. There’s still at least one good playtime or two left in him.

 

Reviewed by John Upton

 

 

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 © 2000 - 2018