CHILD’S PLAY Review: A Self-Aware Reboot That’s Surprisingly Fun

We're just as shocked as you are.

Rebooting Child's Play for 2019 doesn't require a degree in advanced phsyics: What are kids into these days? What's the thing that has taken over every aspect of our lives? Artificially intelligent technology. Smart homes, smarter phones. The Cloud. It's an obvious approach to modernizing a horror classic, but Tyler Burton Smith's screenplay subverts expecations (to some degree): This Chucky isn't an A.I. that's become sentient and gone rogue; instead, he's the result of malicious coding implanted by a rightfully disgruntled factory worker in Vietnam. This laughable origin is laid out in the opening scene of Lars Klevberg's film, setting the tone for the extremely silly horror film that follows. With apologies to Don Mancini (this is the first Child's Play movie made without his involvement), this reboot is actually, oddly enjoyable. Is it good? Not particularly, but it's a solidly good and gory time with a self-aware streak that pays homage both to the original films and the ’80s genre flicks Child's Play fans know and love.

As with Mancini's 1988 classic, the new Child's Play centers on a fatherless kid named Andy (Gabriel Bateman, who looks like the child ghost of Ansel Elgort's past) and his single mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), who works at the local outpost of a mega retail chain. Subbing in for Apple, et al. is Kaplan, a corporation that specializes in smart tech: Phones, robotic vacuum cleaners, televisions, and Buddi – essentially Alexa in the body of a creepy, red-haired doll. With the Buddi 2 hitting shelves in a few weeks, Karen manages to snag a malfunctioning doll destined for the trash compactor, delivering it to Andy as an early birthday gift. From the moment Andy activates his Buddi (voiced by Mark Hamill), it's apparent that this thing is busted. "What's your name?" Buddi asks. "Andy. Sup," Andy responds. And so Buddi takes to calling his new best friend "Andy Sup." After attempting to name his new animatronic pal "Han Solo" (in what is thankfully the only overt nod to Star Wars), a glitch results in the doll calling itself Chucky. 

It doesn't take long for the hacked Chucky to begin showing signs of sociopathy, first in simple ways (he can swear), and then in increasingly disturbing ones: In one hilarious scene he watches Andy sleeping and sings him the "Buddi" song in a creepy whisper; Chucky tries to strangle the family cat, Mickey Rooney, when it takes a swipe at Andy; after watching Andy brush his teeth and cut open a sandwich, Chucky grabs a knife and tries to mimic Andy's movements, resulting in an attempted slashing. Mostly, this Chucky is confused. If anything, he learned it from watching Andy – and Andy's new friends, Fallon and Pug, as they laugh hysterically at the violence and gore in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The inclusion of that scene alone – along with posters for Poltergeist III and Killer Klowns From Outer Space – is a huge tip-off regarding the film's motives and attitudes. The new Child's Play knows that a killer doll is inherently ridiculous, but it's also keenly self-aware in terms of its cinematic predecessors and the particular delights of B-movie horror and increasingly absurd sequels. With that in mind, Chucky's ensuing violence is grotesquely entertaining – the same way The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is. If there's any major complaint to be had, it's with the design of the new Chucky, which is brought to life with a blend of animatronics and CGI. The latter isn't nearly as distracting as the design of the doll itself, which looks inherently creepy before it even opens its mouth. With a weird, slicked-back mullet, overly-large eyes, and caterpillar eyebrows, this Chucky fails where Mancini's creation succeeded: There's nothing seemingly harmless or even remotely banal about this thing. It just looks fucked up from the get-go.

After Chucky does away with Karen's boyfriend, Shane (who extremely has it coming), he sets his sights on another target close to home for Andy – who's begun to realize that his Buddi isn't much of a Buddi at all. In fact, he's a psychotically co-dependent machine that will stop at nothing to have Andy all to himself. While Andy tries and fails to dump his clingy doll-friend, he begins fraternizing with a detective named Mike (Brian Tyree Henry, Child's Play MVP) and his elderly mother, which only serves to further enrage Chucky – who becomes something of a jealous ex-lover as a result. Child's Play follows the original trilogy's tradition of outlandish and wildly satisfying climaxes, this one taking place at the store where Karen works during the launch of the Buddi 2 (a line that also includes a blonde Buddi and one that's covered in fur, like a bear). There is, of course, the ominous final scene that suggests the possibility of a sequel; not that one is needed, nor will it likely happen given how improbable it is that the reboot will be successful enough to warrant such a thing. 

It's certainly not an instant-classic like Mancini's original, and it's nowhere near as wonderfully wacky and deranged as Bride of Chucky, but this Child's Play is exactly the sort of entertaining and strangely fun schlock you'd expect from a reboot of a movie about a killer doll. Klevberg's film is arguably slightly better than that, elevated by an excellent cast that's every bit as self-aware as the script.