Another talking-doll movie sequel cash-in that no one asked for arrives in cinemas, shamelessly milking its gleefully rabid fanbase. But that’s enough about Toy Story 4.
In what is either an amusing marketing ploy or a rare moment of serendipity for tired, deadline-buffeting film critics needing a cheap intro joke, the latest Child’s Play hits general release on the same day as the aforementioned – and admittedly heartwarmingly lovely – Pixar tale. As luck would have it, Child’s Play is a funny, knowing reboot of a deliciously creepy horror franchise – so there’s no need to storm your local film studio with flaming bags of excrement demanding satisfaction. At least, not this week.
For this 2019 edition of Child’s Play, director Lars Klevberg keeps things simple. Young single mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza) moves into a pleasant apartment in an averagely scuzzy neighbourhood in an unnamed American city. She’s keen to cheer up her friendless and hard-of-hearing teen son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), so gives him a talking and glitching Buddi doll who introduces himself as Chucky. The obvious weirdness of giving a presumably selfie-and-onanism-keen teen a gift appropriate for a toddler is very vaguely touched upon but mostly unacknowledged. Still, Andy soon becomes pals with some generic local kids by virtue of his strange toy – and high jinks ensue.
Chucky – voiced mischievously by Mark Hamill, taking over from CP regular Brad Dourif – swiftly shows a violent and subsequently murderous edge. It’s particularly amusing when he learns the phrase “This is for Tupac” from a local teen and uses it while angrily wielding a knife. As we might expect, there’s an oaf-ish and mean new boyfriend for mom called Shane (David Lewis, appropriately spiteful), who gets his predictable but pleasingly demented comeuppance in impressively inventive fashion.
And, of course, there’s Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Mike Norris, a kindly local cop who gets wise to the weird and grisly events going down in the ’hood and befriends Andy before blaming him for the area’s unsavoury Chucky-related crimes. If it feels like something of an artistic step down for the likeable Henry, who’s always good value in superb Steve McQueen thriller Widows and Barry Jenkins’ masterful drama If Beale Street Could Talk, he is – at least – a welcome screen presence and an accomplished character actor.
If the plotting and character beats are a tad obvious, what we do have is a rare beast – a fun, enjoyable rehash of some seemingly tired old horror IP. For their part, Plaza and Bateman have some snappy moments of mother-and-son banter. There’s also a satisfyingly gruesome scene involving a table saw and a creepy, voyeur janitor in a basement. And the film’s supermarket-set denouement is even an engaging low-rent spectacular of a bizarre sort.
This eighth entry in the saga is the first without long-term series creator Don Mancini, who wrote or co-wrote the first four and wrote and directed the most recent three, including straight-to-DVD efforts Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017). Interestingly, Mancini tried to get a reboot off the ground from 2008 but the poor box-office performance and overall poor quality of the Friday The 13th (2009) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) evidently scuppered studio interest for a third big 80s slasher revival.
Mancini’s absence, evidently down to studio rights issues in the first instance, is felt. Many viewers will wonder whether he would have used the opportunity of a theatrical release to do something truly bold. The last time one of his Chucky films hit cinemas – 2004’s Seed of Chucky – it tackled identity and gender. Given how hot these topics are in 2019, perhaps he was just 15 years too early.