Child’s Play (2019) is a remake of a now-semi-iconic horror cult classic from 1988, only bearing resemblance to that film both in name and in character titles, but otherwise existing as a mostly (if not almost entirely) different movie in its own right. It was directed by Lars Kelvberg from a script by Tyler Burton Smith, and stars Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, and Brian Tyree Henry, with Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky (the titular doll from all the original Child’s Play sequels).
After moving to a new town, Andy (Bateman) has trouble making new friends, or really doing much of anything outside of playing on his phone while his mom (Plaza) is working her low-paying job prepping for the launch of the new “Buddi 2” doll, the newest model of a remote A.I. system that can connect to and control all smart home products made by a company called Kaslan, thereby making life easier to Kaslan product owners by allowing them to simply tell their Buddi doll to do stuff for them (sort of like this movie’s version of an Alexa or Siri, but able to function with and use a far wider range of products). After a defective original model Buddi doll is returned to the store where she works, Andy’s mom decides to surprise him with an early birthday present. But something isn’t write about this old model, and before too long, Chucky (as the doll names itself) becomes a sinister danger to Andy and everyone around him.
I never did watch the original Child’s Play or any of its subsequent sequels, largely because by the time I got around to knowing about them, they were well into those sequels, which meant I’d have to watch 5 movies of backstory just to understand what was going on in the one that would release next; plus, I wasn’t nearly as into movies back then, so I just decided I didn’t really want to watch them, as most of them were straight-to-DVD releases anyway, and I wasn’t nearly as big of a horror enthusiast then as I am now (for the good stuff). It’s surprising to me, though, that this remake was even commissioned into existence, because so far as I know (or have learned since), the original cult hit series with the original Chucky doll is still putting out sequels to mostly positive acclaim, albeit the type of acclaim one might typically get with a straight-to-DVD release. Plus, there’s even a new spinoff Child’s Play tv series currently in development, which makes this not only a pretty generic and boring remake, but yet another extension in the constantly growing line of remakes no one asked for or needed that people can use as an example of why Hollywood “only makes sequels and remakes now” (even though that’s what everyone always goes to see the most; I’m just saying, money talks, people). Before we get into why this movie is so boring and generic, however, I want to take quick moment to highlight some of the positives this remake manages to pull off, so let’s get into that first before we dig into what most of the movie is like.
To start, this movie does introduce some concepts that could play out in a very interesting way within the confines of the slasher horror genre. One of the things that makes Chucky go off the deep end is that he’s algorithmically programmed to respond to people’s emotions and voices in order to make them happier, but since the lead character of this movie (aside from Chucky himself) is a 13-year-old boy who just moved to a new town and hates his mom’s new boyfriend, his emotions (and indeed the things he says) are all over the place, which causes Chucky to take things a bit too far when trying to make him happy by removing problems or people from his life that “hurt” him. In short, interacting with unstable human beings is what causes the doll to go nuts instead of a serial killer ritualistically imbuing a creepy doll with his own consciousness, which is a nice and somewhat thoughtful, darker, more modern update for this kind of story; it works when it’s not just playing the original’s notes all over again, and the performance of Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky (while a bit on the generic side) is one of the better aspects of the film overall, even if he doesn’t really get to do much that anyone else couldn’t also do. Most of the performances are pretty solid as well; kid actors, especially in horror movies, generally don’t impress all that much, but Gabriel Bateman makes the most of the screen time he has to deliver a pretty solid leading turn overall.
The best performance in the movie, though, belongs to Brian Tyree Henry, playing a detective who Andy befriends near the start of the film while he’s hanging out in the hallway of his apartment building. He doesn’t get to do a lot, but Henry is such a dynamic presence with such a natural gift for the craft that he ends up stealing every scene he’s in, usually without having to say much at all. It can be easy sometimes to take an actor like that for granted, but his performance in this reminds us not only why we shouldn’t, but why we would regret it if we did; he’s really that good of a performer, and he’s easily the best part of this movie.
And that’s what leads us into the negatives. For all the good will it tries to conjure by remaking a horror premise that’s just not all that horrifying anymore, the most frustrating thing about Child’s Play (2019) is how often is sets up some truly creepy scenarios, only for it to play them in the most predictable and boring way imaginable, constantly breaking its own logic rules in the process, even the rules it sets up for the world it takes place in. There are constant moments throughout the movie where the audience can telegraph a mile ahead of time what’s going to happen, who’s going to die, and how the whole situation could be so easily resolved, the movie’s in such a hurry to make you wait for it in order to build up tension that all the tension that would be there just slowly deflates out of the room, and you’re left there wondering why Andy never talks to the detective, a person he clearly trusts, who also clearly has a soft spot for him, about what’s going on with the murder doll, and never even attempts to explain himself even when the officer has him in handcuffs at one point (no spoilers as to why though).
The movie also suffers from some pretty major pacing issues during the first two acts, even though it’s only an hour and a half long. It feels like a two hour movie, with multiple endings seemingly tacked onto one another in order to lengthen its run-time to justify a theatrical release. That’s not to say it actually has multiple endings, but it certainly feels like it does, as one scene after another brings the movie to its logical climax, only for it to keep on playing for another 15 minutes or so longer than it was probably meant to, since we need to see Chucky try to murder some more people instead of ending the movie by following the film’s own logic.
Unfortunately, one of the other reasons this movie feels so long is due to its incredibly underdeveloped characters and a performance by Aubrey Plaza that can only be define as a “sleepwalking” performance, where an actor just kind of says the lines they’re scripted to, but doesn’t add any nuance to the character they’re playing or seem to put in any real effort; I’d be remiss to blame it all on Plaza, though, because the dialogue most of these actors are given is generic at best and laughable at worst. There are a few pretty funny moments where I chuckled a bit, but in the end, none of the elements that were supposed to matter ended up meaning anything, and the things that weren’t supposed to just ended up serving as a reminder that this could have been a way better remake if it the script weren’t so uninspired. There are any number of other negatives I could point to, but to be honest, the movie was so unremarkable, even in a bad way, that I don’t remember most of them. That’s how forgettable this movie is.
Child’s Play (2019) is not an all-around dumpster fire or anything, and it does bring about some pretty interesting ideas for a sci-fi horror concept, but it fails to deliver on most levels as a horror film and fails to impress on pretty much every level as a remake of an existing cult classic whose series is still going on. It’s an entirely forgettable, disposable, bargain bin excuse of a movie with two or three decent performances from actors who are clearly above this kind of material, doing the thankless job of trying to re-vitalize something that hasn’t died. Oh well, at least Midsommar comes out soon.
I’m giving “Child’s Play” (2019) a 4.8/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.