Child’s Play (2019)
Directed By: Lars Klevberg
Written By: Tyler Burton Smith
“The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts” is a phrase that you’ll hear from time to time. When looking at Child’s Play, the exact opposite seems to be true. The whole comes up far short of the sum of it’s parts, or whatever would be considered the opposite of the actual phrase. There is a lot to like in this film but ultimately it just doesn’t work.
Tom Holland’s 1988 movie holds up extremely well and is now looked at as a classic slasher film. Wisely, for the 2019 version writer Tyler Burton Smith comes at the story with a whole new approach. In Holland’s story Chucky is brought to life when serial killer Charles Lee Ray uses a voodoo spell to transfer his soul into the doll. Burton sets this aside and instead takes a more modern angle by making Chucky a piece of technology gone wrong.
Instead of being a Good Guys doll, Chucky is now shown as a Buddi doll. These dolls are produced by a company called Kaslan Industries and they act as not only a sort of robot friend for children but also as a hub for all of the technology in your smart home. The trouble starts in Vietnam where the dolls are assembled. A worker is berated and fired and on his way out the door he removes all of Chucky’s safety protocols, which is the source of our mayhem. This updated take on the source material not only fits in perfectly with the world we live in and the one we are headed for but it also allows the filmmakers plenty of room for commentary on our reliance on and addiction to technology. At times it feels like the movie is beating you over the head with it’s message but it mostly does so in fun ways.
The story is full of the horror tropes that we are all too familiar with. Do a single mom and her kid move to a new place? Check. Does the kid have trouble making new friends? Check. Does the mother have a boyfriend that the kid hates and who is secretly a terrible person? Check. Does no one believe the kid when he tells them what is really happening? Check. It’s all there but this cast seems to make it work. Aubrey Plaza, as the mother, shows enough desperation and resignation for us to believe that her character would just accept the lot that she has been given, yet also shows enough strength when needed that it’s clear she will not let bad things happen to her son. I’m confident in saying that she gives the best performance in the film. Her character doesn’t come close to being the best in the movie though. That honor goes to Detective Mike and his mother Doreen, played by Brian Tyree Henry and Carlease Burke. I would have been happy just to sit in a theater and watch those two have dinner together because they are delightful. While Plaza stood out the most to me, this entire cast does a great job at elevating the material so that it doesn’t feel like a horror movie built on horror movie cliches. Of course, there’s no way I can write about this movie and not mention Mark Hamill. I’d be lying if I said that I got used to the look of this new version of Chucky but Hamill does a great job giving the killer robot doll a voice. It’s Mark Hamill doing voice work, that’s really all that needs to be said.
I like the writer’s new take on the material and the cast does a great job but the most impressive thing about Child’s Play is how the film looks. I never know who should get credit when a film looks incredible. Is it the director or the cinematographer? My guess is, in most cases, it’s the two of them working together. That means that both director Lars Klevberg and cinematographer Brendan Uegama should take a bow. The use of color and light in this movie is breathtaking at times and every shot is perfectly setup for maximum impact. I hope that the two of them work together on everything moving forward because this film is more beautiful than it should be allowed to be.
So if all of this works so well, the movie must be great, right? Unfortunately, no. Despite the best efforts of the director, cinematographer, writer and cast, Child’s Play just doesn’t quite work. It’s hard to determine why. I think it’s partly because it doesn’t have a sense of place, I had to google it to find out that this one is also set in Chicago. The city felt like a large part of the original and that is lacking here. Maybe it’s because there were a few logic flaws that took me out of the moment (Chucky has a tendency to seemingly teleport from place to place). Maybe I had trouble buying the bond between Andy and Chucky because Chucky never felt like anything more than a robot doll. More than likely it was a combination of all these things and/or something else that hasn’t occurred to me. Whatever the cause, I started checking my watch an awful lot and when a movie only as a 90 minute runtime, that means something isn’t working.