WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Child's Play, in theaters now.
Following the mediocre reception to remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, fans were left wondering if a Child's Play reboot could recapture that initial magic of a supernaturally-possessed killer doll. Even though the franchise did lose steam after the '80s and early '90s, the property is still a classic in the slasher genre and something that horror lovers in general would love to see treated right.
In director Lars Klevberg's reboot, the frnachise changes things up by making Chucky being a malfunctioning doll and an artificial intelligence that effectively shapes him into an evil version of Apple's Alexa. This upgrade ends up being a very polarizing decision, however, since it's both the best and worst thing the franchise could have done to the toy.
In the first half of the movie, Chucky simply lacks the magic and eerie, overly sinister vibe that franchise mastermind Don Mancini and original Chucky actor Brad Douriff brought to the table. A lot of this has to do with Chucky's personality, since he was always more than just a toy. He was literally a serial killer named Charles whose soul was trapped in this doll, so Chucky really felt human. This allowed Chucky to emotionally connect and resonate more with us on a personal level.
The A.I. route is relatable this day and age, but framing Chucky in this manner takes away from the charisma and unpredictable psychotic vibe of the doll, especially when he befriends and then goes after Andy (Gabriel Bateman) once he's been rejected. A supernaturally-imbued Chucky simply feels like he has more dimensions than a robot with malfunctioning programming, which ultimately isn't nuanced enough.
It doesn't help that we've also seen killer robots in Terminator, I, Robot and I Am Mother. Killer robots are a well-worn concept, whereas a murderer trapped inside a toy has a unique feel to it. It's a wacky angle which made the original franchise more than just your average horror or slasher film. It could be a dark comedy at times, a suspense at others and a crime drama, all while keeping the horror essence of Child's Play intact. In this remake, Chucky merely feels like your average sci-fi movie about a robot who's nothing more than an accessory and a bland digital tool gone awry.
These issues are only highlighted by Mark Hamill's voice acting, which, no pun intended, is far too robotic and makes Chucky seem like an automation on a leash instead of the madman about to lose his cool.
CHUCKY'S NEW POWERS ALMOST COMPENSATE
However, grounding the film in the realm of science works for the narrative Child's Play spins towards the end. In a technical level, he works this aspect well into the action-driven finale, pulling off the robot apocalypse on a self-contained scale in the Zed Store that Andy's mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), is working in. Here, the director has Chucky going on a rampage in a whole new way, far gone from the days of profanity-laced killings using knives, crazy brides and cults.
When Chucky hacks into the Buddi technological network in the final act of this movie, he's commanding drones, cars and other dolls which pose a threat like never before. This is where we actually get a brand-new facet of the killer that leaves us in awe. Chucky's newfound god-mode is pretty well explored via the massacre at the store, as his army slaughters dozens of humans, just so he could have Andy to himself.
That said, this film is still ultimately a mixed success on this front, since the franchise was never really about the size of Chucky's body count over the decades, which any '80s slasher series can give us.
Chucky's overall persona was his most appealing aspect, and while he's now slaughtering with new and improved tools, he falls flat as a run-of-the-mill program turned against humanity. Ultimately, Klevberg's overall vision is constrained by the fact Chucky isn't a person anymore and while he may be a better killer, it doesn't make up for the fact he's simply not a more engaging character.
Directed by Lars Klevberg from a script by Tyler Burton Smith, Child's Play stars Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, Gabriel Bateman, Tim Matheson and Mark Hamill.