Child's Play (2019)

JUNE 23, 2019


The original Child's Play series is most notably the only major horror franchise that has been consistently written by the same person (Don Mancini), and yet the films themselves are probably the easiest to tell apart for a casual fan - seven very distinctive movies from one sole voice. Each one has had its own identity thanks to a specific setting (a military academy! Hollywood! A mental institution!) and even tone - some go for scares, others play up the comedy - yet remain consistent in its mythology and characters. So it's ironic that Child's Play, the 2019 remake that is also the first Chucky movie NOT written by Mancini, suffers from a bit of multiple personality disorder, as if they Frankensteined the script (or at least, the edit - more on that soon) from several versions that had vastly different things in mind. In one movie we got all the jarring at-odds storytelling decisions that previously eluded the franchise for thirty years.

Luckily, at least one of those assumed versions was actually an ideal concept for a Child's Play remake, so it's far from a disaster or anything. In fact it's actually pretty OK overall, and will easily freak out impressionable youngsters who are at that age where they no longer want to play with dolls but are intrigued by the wonders of technology, while making the adults perhaps rethink how many of their devices can be listening to everything they say. In one of its best ideas, the new Chucky isn't so much a generic plaything doll, but an attempt at a cutesy Alexa/Echo kind of device that can connect to your other devices and make life easier. The dolls (called Buddi out of the box, but the owner can give it their own distinct name) can turn on your TV, remind you about appointments, arrange for your rideshare, etc. You ever tell your Echo Dot to add milk to your grocery list or something of that benign nature? These folks can do that with their Buddi, with the added bonus of him being a little friend for your kids as opposed to a little hockey puck on the shelf.

So in addition to finding a way to mock the latest craze (the original "Good Guy Doll" was a spoof on Cabbage Patch Kids; this is on companies insisting all of our devices "talk" to each other), it also allows them to age Andy up a bit, giving the character different anxieties about his doll and also having the adults treat him differently when the "No, Chucky did it!" kind of stuff starts happening. Andy here is like 12 or 13 (the original one was about six if memory serves) so he obviously wouldn't be playing with a talking doll anymore, but one that can act as another device might be appealing, especially to one who has trouble making friends and finds his very capable doll to be an easy way to avoid doing the hard work of coming out of his shell (an early scene has his mother asking him to go outside and make friends - he ends up hiding in the hallway playing with his phone instead of even trying).

I also liked that Chucky was not possessed or anything. As a learning device, it is programmed to pick up on things that people say and do and act accordingly - a walk and talking version of your phone remembering how to spell your pet's made up name or how Gmail can guess you might want to reply "OK, no prob" to an email from someone saying they can't make your birthday party. But a disgruntled employee removes all of the safety features, so Chucky can learn how to swear and (thanks to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2!) kill. And as his only goal in life is to make Andy happy and be his best friend, he sees Andy's happy reaction to the horror movie, and Andy's sad/angry reaction to people like his mom's boyfriend, and - without a soul to inform him he's doing anything wrong - starts offing people who upset his best pal. It's like the Monster drowning that girl because he doesn't understand the difference between play and reality, essentially, as opposed to an actual EVIL DOLL doing these things because he likes to do it.

So all that is well and good, but as the movie goes on, things start going astray - ironically enough - after Chucky makes his first human kill. Mimicking TCM2's scene where Leatherface puts on the guy's face in an attempt to appeal to Stretch, Chucky cuts the victim's face off and attaches it to a watermelon from the patch the guy inexplicably has, and brings it back to Andy's room as a present. Andy then freaks out, calls over his two friends (his "cool" safety feature-free doll has won him a few pals in the building), and then they decide to use some wrapping paper to wrap it up and throw it away. But he's caught with the makeshift gift by his mom, and his impossibly dumb excuse is that it's a gift for the lady down the hall - who is (and he knows this) mother to a cop. Then he has to convince the lady not to open the gift, then he has to get it back - it's like a bad cringe comedy sketch tossed into the middle of a horror movie, and ultimately the head ends up in the garbage chute where it can be found by the cops later anyway, so why they didn't just delete THIS entire sequence is beyond me, as it all it does is eat up ten minutes of screentime that could have been spent on something that the audience might not find the most implausible thing about a killer doll movie.

I emphasize "THIS" because clearly, the movie got reworked some, something I was convinced of BEFORE the end credits rolled and I saw the telltale "additional editor by" credit in the crawl that you only see in movies that got recut by someone at the 11th hour. Certain subplots never really resolve, and other times people seem to be overreacting to things - which is code for "they're actually reacting to something that got cut and we're hoping you will buy that it's this other thing". This happens most notably in a scene that ends the second act, when Andy is fully aware Chucky is doing terrible things but of course no one believes him. He's yelling about it in the Walmart-y department store where his mom works, and in the confusion/chaos one of his friends accidentally hits his head on one of the store shelves - but the next time we see them, they're all acting like he's this total psycho and no one ever wants to see him again, and the kid who whacked his chin seems more sad than in pain. Turns out (per Reddit and also a friend who was at the test screening) that originally Chucky killed that kid's dog and pinned it on Andy, a sequence that was removed and rejiggered, but with its fallout remaining.

Part of Chucky's plan involved using Andy's hearing aid, which fell off in the scuffle and gets a "Uh oh!" kind of closeup so that the audience is absolutely sure to see that Andy lost it. However, now he recovers it in the same scene (part of a reshoot that occurred in April, apparently), making the whole "he lost it" element mean absolutely nothing. In fact, his hearing issue as a whole never seems to play a part in anything, which is another reason that the movie feels cobbled together - there's probably a version where Chucky helped him with his condition when he's still good or used it to his advantage when bad, but he does neither here - there's a very quick scene where he is seemingly talking directly to the device (a "voice in his head" kind of thing) but it lasts all of four seconds. I can't imagine they went to all of that trouble just to have a bit where only Andy can hear Chucky, especially so late in the film. And then when other people do see that Andy is telling the truth, there's never any kind of "Oh shit, he WAS telling the truth" kind of moment from his mom or the cop, or even any disbelief as to what they're seeing - they just quickly accept it, I guess.

And then there's Andy's dad, who is only really mentioned once, when the kid is first showing Chucky his room (including his strange drawings, another thing that seems to be setting something up only for it to never come up again). When flipping through the sketchbook he comes across a picture of his father, and then he shuts the book saying "that's enough for now", but there's no followup. We know his mom (Aubrey Plaza, basically playing her Parks & Rec character) had him early, and Andy's reaction to the boyfriend suggests he's the latest in a string of losers, so this seemed to be suggesting the father wasn't dead but out of the picture by choice. However, later there's a framed picture of him in the living room, which would be a weird thing for Aubrey's character to have around if he was some jerk who left or was left. Again, two or three different narrative paths, all at once.

Things finally pick back up with the climax, though it's sadly over before it fully gets going. See, Chucky is part of the original "Buddi" line, and now the Buddi 2 is coming - with a big midnight opening at the store Andy's mom works. Chucky manages to tap into all of the devices (by the way, they specifically say he can only do this with his fellow Kaslan Industry products, so I guess these guys own more of our lives than Apple because he never once has trouble connecting to anything), such as drones armed with razors and the other Buddi dolls (including a freaky bear one), then locks the doors and sets everything free for maximum chaos. But we see I think two people get killed; despite the doors locking everyone manages to get away, I guess - or they all just died off-screen, which is possible since the movie is noticeably economical with what it shows us (80% or more of the movie takes place in either his apartment or the store; the rare exteriors are quick and tightly framed). With a blank check budget, I'm sure this sequence could have been a halfway point kind of thing, with Chucky's minions wreaking havoc everywhere a la Gremlins, but instead it became the climax, with everything before it needing to be dragged out to get there so that the film would still be a feature length.

(As for why the Buddy 2 is launching AFTER Christmas, as the movie clearly establishes that the holiday season has just passed, I have no idea.)

I'm sure the original cut was better, or at least, more consistent and less "off", but then again there was probably no real way to get around the other issue, which is that the design of the doll sucks. I'm sure that marketing kept them from making their design too unlike the classic Good Guy version, and so they had to find something in between recognizable and original, but what they came up with is just... BAD. Regardless of its usefulness, I can't imagine anyone would ever want one of these things in their home, and the movie blows its chance to own up to it by not having the Kaslan guy note that the Buddi 2 is "less ugly than its predecessor" or anything like that (though they do now come in a variety of hair colors as parents complained the original one was only available as a ginger, one of the movie's better gags). It seems they wanted to get away from the fact that OG Chucky had two faces (impossibly realized, yes) so tried to get one that was "creepy" but also looked like a normal doll, so he wouldn't have to unrealistically switch back and forth, but that's the wrong approach I think - no one ever cared that Chucky could just go back to looking like a plastic doll after coming fully alive, did they?

As for Mark Hamill, he's a good choice - he rarely yells/snarls/laughs so there's a big enough difference between him and Dourif to work, and he thankfully isn't given lots of one-liners (he only has one, really - and it's kind of amazing in context, which I won't spoil here). Back to the "multiple ideas at once" thing, at times it almost feels like they want us to feel bad for Chucky in that same Frankenstein's Monster kind of way, as he simply doesn't understand what he's doing wrong and just wants to make Andy happy, but they never fully commit to it. That said, if they DID make that movie, Hamill would be perfect for it - his earlier line readings do actually generate some pity for the toy. Bear McCreary's score also does some of the heavy lifting - this movie SOUNDS so much better than it LOOKS, basically. The human actors are all whatever; Brian Tyree Henry is probably the bright spot since he gets some good lines and a big crowd-pleasing moment near the end, but he also never feels essential to the movie and could have been excised without it affecting anything.

So it'd make a good double feature with Ma, now that I think about it, as both movies generate a little goodwill that more or less sustains itself for the runtime, and some nasty/mean-spirited moments that I was surprised to see in a major studio release, but also feel like two movies got made and someone cobbled together the most coherent version they could using equal parts from both. Out of spite they should have focused all of their energy on presenting a screenplay that would measure up to the earlier films, if only to prove that Don Mancini doesn't have to be the only one writing these things, but.. they basically proved Don Mancini should be the only one writing these things. Even he doesn't knock it out of the park every time, but the movies are always interesting in their own way, whereas this one was largely going through the motions. I didn't like Seed of Chucky and never even watched in its entirety a second time, but I can still remember big chunks of it 15 years later - I may have enjoyed this more, but won't remember much of it in 15 days. Call me if they decide to release the earlier cut though - I suspect that despite whatever issues it may have had, it's the more consistent and ultimately more interesting movie.

What say you?


  1. I found it to be surprisingly solid, with pretty much the same critiques. Great review!

  2. i really enjoyed it. i was glad to see a different take on the haunted doll genre. felt enjoyable and different at times. probably the most distracting editing elements for me were the many shots of him coming home through his front door. if i remember correctly, there were a few times where they didn't even show him leave or where he was. he just walks in to find chucky doing something again. i think it worked the best for me when i was feeling empathy for chucky, which felt like the most interesting addition to the chucky movies! nice review!

    1. Hahaha I tweeted about the insane excess of "coming home" shots!

  3. I thought it was a terrible mess and thank you for confirming that there were post-production reshoots and editing because so much just didn't make sense. I didn't have an issue with the AI aspect vs the possessed doll of the original but that part of the story felt underdeveloped. And why set the story in an crumbling low-income apartment building which wouldn't be likely to have all the fancy electronics Chucky could tap into? A fancy high-rise equipped with the latest technology would have created a lot more opportunity for Chucky to wreak havoc. I liked the driver-less car scene (that technology scares me) but missed why Chucky was going after that character. By that time in the movie I had given up caring about anyone though so they might have said why and I just didn't catch it. Even if they do release an alternate version I can't imagine sitting through it again.


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