Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Child's Play (2019)

Lars Klevberg, 2019 

Creator Don Mancini apparently objects to this reboot but updating Chucky for the Bluetooth generation is a smart move.  Slight thematic differences stop this from being a dull retread of the original. Dismissing the whole “possessed doll” origin makes Chucky less wisecracking but more troubling as the threat of modern technology gone awry. More ‘Westworld’ and ‘Black Mirror’ than ‘Annabel’. It also eschews the smugness that dominates the later Chucky films. 

Andy (Gabriel Bateman) feels like a decidedly modern kid, both happy to cry it out and to kick-ass, a reasonably full range of character. And the casual way he’s partially deaf, which barely plays a part in the drama or his friendships, is a detail which is positively normalised by being happily trivialised. His mother (Aubrey Plaza) is a young woman who had Andy too early and sometimes feels more like a big sister. Yes, many other characters come from the B-Movie Catalogue of Archetypes – the bad boyfriend that deserves all he gets; Andy’s new slightly obnoxious friend – which is expected, cliché and undemanding but the film doesn’t quite rub it in and is grounded by the central relationship. Uncle Lancifer doesn’t quite accept the middle section where Andy has to deal with the grim gift Chucky has left him – like a cat leaving a dead mouse for its owner – and this is indeed the most awkward sequence which runs like horror farce and relies on no follow-up questions to get resolved; but it’s not quite out of tone. It has that b-movie scruffiness where a further polish on the script wouldn’t have gone amiss to nudge it up a little. If there is the sense of feeling a little surprised that this is fair rather than bad, that was the dominant take-away. And then it just runs into a standard showdown third act. Oh, and Mark Hamill now voices Chucky.

‘Child’s Play’s most interesting feature is its brush with the themes of nature and nurture. Chucky has had his “violence inhibitors” turned off by a factory work pushed too far so that he fixates on loyalty to Andy but doesn’t know how to process certain input appropriately. Andy is a little old for a “doll”, but he’s new in the area and lonely and this is a fascinating super high-tech appliance. So it’s creepy when Chucky is staring at you when you are trying to sleep, but, hey, every appliance has it’s annoyances. Chucky’s mistaking a toilet roll for science book is just a glitch in it’s trying to be a real friend. These are moments of humour.

Most interestingly, whilst the tweens are laughing at the silly super-violence of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’, Chucky is taking in tips for killing. This isn’t a film to take on such a weighty topic as the responsibility of art’s portrayal of violence, the ‘Chainsaw 2’ moment being a set up for the film’s grisliest moments and for farce, but it’s intriguing that a main source of empathy is Chucky’s clumsy desire to do good and misunderstanding cues happening around him. The kids are laughing – like any innate horror fan, they know the genre is a good source of comedy – but  there is something fundamentally amiss with Chucky and he takes it all wrong. His insistence and faux paus are readable as the behaviour of somebody who is cognitive atypical and therefore deserving of empathy. Until he kills, of course. But then, his homicidal behaviour comes across more as he-knows-no-better than intentionally malevolent, as the violent reactions of a stalker or spurned lover. Which makes him no less scary.

It’s not ground-breaking, but it meets demands with Tyler Burton Smith’s script tweaking a bit here and there to lift it above the in-joke that the original series has become.

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