WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Child's Play, in theaters now.
Child's Play is, in many regards, a gleeful throwback to a bygone era of horror. The film resurrects many trappings of the slasher genre, including elaborate death scenes and last minute revivals. But, it also takes its time to reconsider some aspects of this style of horror film, making minor (and major) tweaks to the way these films ended up usually playing out, and bringing the film into the 21st century.
A 21st CENTURY KILLER
In earlier Child's Play films, it wasn't uncommon for Chucky to just use the element of surprise to take down his targets. No-one would suspect a doll of being capable of stabbing you in the face, after all, so Chucky usually got the drop on his victims easily. But, in the new Child's Play, Chucky isn't just relegated to a single body. Because he's connected to the digital cloud, he has a plethora of new technology at his disposal.
This allows Chucky (and the film's director, Lars Klevberg) to frame some truly gruesome and original deaths befitting the golden era of slasher fare they're trying to recreate. One man gets his head torn to shreds by a mulcher. Another has his workshop turned against him, ending with him falling directly onto his own table saw. Chucky even eventually takes control of a fleet of drones and straps knives to them, because this movie knows exactly what it's trying to be. New technology allows for new innovations in murder, so it's fun to see Chucky embracing that aspect instead if just stabbing people a bunch.
A CHILD'S WAY
One of the bigger shifts Child's Play takes away from the original 1988 film is in the focus of the main character, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). In the original, Andy was considerably younger than the modern incarnation of the character. Instead of limiting Andy by making him too young, the new film puts Andy firmly in the middle of adolescence. He's in the process of becoming a teenager, giving him more freedom. He has more agency, and that makes a world of difference.
While he's some not any kind of technical genius, Andy is pretty technologically competent, like most kids his age today. This gives him the ability to use the same tools that Chucky is abusing to try and outthink him. And when that doesn't work, Andy throws caution to the wind and actually finds himself some weapons. This is a far cry from the finale of the original (and many other films of the era), where the child in peril basically added nothing of value to the climax. The original Child's Play barely had Andy doing anything to protect his life.
Here, Andy actually manages to hold his own against Chucky. He outright saves his mother's life in the process. It's always exciting in films focusing on children of this age to see them finally step up to the supernatural threat. (Just look at Stranger Things, which uses this beat frequently.) In a refreshing turn, Child's Play actually lets the kid save himself.
A BREAK FROM TRADITION
Horror films have a bad reputation for killing off minor characters who are people of color first. It's become such a noted trope that horror parodies gleefully tease the concept. It also means that the genre has developed a habit of giving minority character little to do outside of dying, something that filmmakers have been trying to change in recent years -- most notably Jordan Peele earlier this year with Us. Klevberg also attempts this by making Mike (Brian Tyree Henry) one of the more engaging characters in the film. A personable but dedicated man, he repeatedly proves himself a hero multiple times over the film.
For those acts though, he ends up getting stabbed by one of the drones Chucky has strapped knives to. It initially looks like Mike is dead. But, in the final moments of the climax, he stirs himself back to action and shoots down Chucky as he tries to attack Andy. Not only does he get a major role in helping save the day from Chucky, but he doesn't end up paying the ultimate price for his heroism. Mike actually manages to survive the film, while getting to avenge the death of his mother by Chucky's hand earlier in the film. It's nice to see Mike actually develop a personality, which makes his survival in a big-budget horror film all the more refreshing.
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.