As someone who has never seen the original Chucky movies but has visited more than one haunted house utilizing the demented, foul-mouthed puppet as a platform to deliver cheap laughs and gore-filled deaths, I had some idea of what to expect from this remake. I figured that the titular doll would most likely use Mark Hamill’s famous Joker-esque voice deliver the occasional quip here and there, all while murdering his victims in the most brutal way imaginable a la Saw or other similarly-bloody gore porn films. I also figured that the movie would rely heavily on 80s nostalgia, as seems to be the style of today’s culture of nostalgia. So when the movie started and I was immediately greeted by the head of some tech corporation spouting off about how this “doll” was actually a robotic life assistant that could control every aspect of one’s home, like some kind of twisted version of Amazon’s Alexa, I quickly realized that my initial assumptions were not going to be very accurate.
I guess in an era of shows like “Black Mirror” and “Love, Death, and Robots,” technology has become scarier to most people than a voodoo-possessed serial killer trapped inside a child’s doll. And while I do appreciate that a modern horror movie is actually trying to provide some semblance of a critique on society, the actual “Chucky” aspect of the film is where things really fall flat. Taking the form of a robotic home assistant turned hostile, the 2019 version of Chucky is stripped of almost all personality and is essentially just a machine acting on bad programming. The introduction of the film shows a disgruntled sweatshop worker dozing off, leading to his boss firing him on the spot. What follows is one of many unintentionally funny scenes sprinkled throughout the movie in order to justify its ludicrous plot, with the sweatshop worker hacking into the programming of the Chucky doll (or “Buddi doll,” as they are referred to in the movie), and disabling features such as “violence inhibitors.”
The robotic doll is then packaged and shipped as normal, with the factory worker immediately committing suicide after his work is done. Its eyes glow red and we have our set up for everything that’s to come. Unfortunately, before we can start having fun, we have to sit through the mandatory boring human side of the plot first. From here, we follow the perspective of Andy, a 13-year-old boy whose shut-in nature and love for video games seems to be preventing him from making friends. His mother, Karen (played by Aubrey Plaza), works a deadbeat job as a cashier in an appliance store where the Buddi dolls are being sold. It’s only after a disgruntled customer returns a malfunctioning Buddi doll that we are finally reunited with Chucky, who is eventually taken home by Karen as an early birthday present for her son.
Andy is understandably disappointed by the gift, as he is a 13-year-old boy receiving a doll as a birthday present, but Karen tells him she thought it might be funny to mess around with it, at least for a little while. He turns it on and it is obviously broken, its speech sputtering and lagging with electronic flair as it unceremoniously ignores most of Andy’s commands and eventually names itself Chucky. From here, the doll imprints itself on Andy, acting as his best friend as the two eventually grow quite close together, playing games and joking around, despite Chucky’s faulty programming. However, it’s not until Andy’s cat scratches him that the issues start to reveal themselves.
Chucky is apparently programmed like a Terminator-esque protector of humans and once his host has been damaged, he immediately seeks out and destroys the source of that damage by any means necessary. This sets the stage for the mayhem that eventually comes about halfway through the film, after Andy makes remarks about how much he hates his mother’s current boyfriend, Shane. Andy eventually starts to ignore Chucky after meeting a pair of friends, a girl named Falyn and a guy named Pugg, who pretty much appear out of nowhere and accompany him throughout most of the film. Chucky, in a bid to win back Andy’s friendship, commits all manner of atrocities, most of which don’t make too much sense but are at least fun to watch, eventually culminating in the (anti-climactic) showdown between Andy and Chucky that the movie has been building towards since the beginning.
The film itself is fairly boilerplate in terms of its style and presentation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it definitely adds to the overall tedious feel of the movie. For a remake that diverges so far from the original source material, Child’s Play 2019 seems to lack any actual creative incentive to take risks beyond doing the bare minimum in every aspect of the actual filmmaking. It reminds me of what I like to call the “Sony aesthetic,” in that the colors are all oversaturated and everyone looks glossy looking for some reason, like the 2016 Ghostbusters remake. And while this film isn’t nearly as bad as that one, its script still leaves a lot of room for improvement, especially in terms of pacing and tone.
My first major issue with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to know how to handle the changes it made to the original source material within the context of an actual “horror movie” setting. There’s nothing scary about this new Chucky, especially since it has been transformed into a robot blindly following faulty programming rather than an actual living creature with an unpredictable personality, making it utterly uninteresting to follow him from Murder A to Murder B. On top of this, the only scares in the entire movie come from cheap music stings at random intervals, usually when there’s not even any danger present. The one example that comes to mind is a scene in which Andy’s mom simply walks out from behind a doorframe with a basket of laundry. There was nothing scary about the scene, no real tension being built, it was just a completely random scare out of nowhere just to see if the audience was still breathing.
This ties into the fact that the tone of the movie is all over the place, with equal time devoted to both humor and suspense. It’s hard to take the threat of the movie seriously when the world the movie takes place in is constantly so exaggerated and self-referential. It’s certainly more of a dark comedy than an actual horror movie, but the extremes to which its violence is delivered seems to be in contrast with the goofy aesthetics of the world it takes place in. In a world where all American home appliances are controlled by a talking robotic doll that everyone, outside of the main characters, seems completely infatuated with, it’s difficult to have emotionally-gripping scenes where Andy cries over the fact that his cat was stabbed to death or that his doll cut off the face of someone and stapled it to a watermelon. Everything just feels a little off, like the movie didn’t want to be too goofy so it added some serious scenes in to reinforce the idea that Chucky is a threat, but at the same time wanted to take place in this exaggerated view of reality in which everyone is a blind consumer of tech products, no matter how creepy and impractical they are.
Pacing is also a huge issue for this movie, as it focuses way too much on the human interaction and building Chucky to eventually turn bad, rather than the actual act of Chucky performing his misdeeds. The doll doesn’t do anything evil until about halfway through the movie, and by then it just starts to feel like a slog. A good horror movie, or just movie in general, should be two steps ahead of its audience. The audience should not feel like they’re the ones always two steps ahead of the movie. So, when Chucky finally started committing his killings, it didn’t feel scary or surprising, it just felt like par for the course. And while the killings were somewhat fun to watch, with cheesy over-the-top gore effects and Saw-style violence, they weren’t enough to hold my attention for very long. Especially knowing that for every minute of violence, there would be 10 minutes of characters sitting around in rooms arguing over what to do about said violence.
In all honesty, I think the biggest thing holding 2019’s Childs Play back is the fact that it is a remake of an old movie rather than an original IP. The concept of a robotic AI partner that is paired with someone’s home, a la Alexa, eventually turning evil and performing all sorts of atrocities due to faulty programming isn’t a bad idea. In fact, I could imagine it working quite well in today’s trend of “technology gone bad” media. However, the idea of this AI assistant looking and talking like a creepy doll for children is just a bit too much to swallow, especially when it has glowing red eyes and can run around your heels like a wild animal. Childs Play 2019 isn’t horrible, it’s just bland, offers very little meaningful critique of technology, and can’t decide whether it wants to be a dark comedy or a gore-filled slasher. It’s mildly entertaining at its best moments and downright boring at its worst, and the conclusion is so ridiculous and anticlimactic that it literally made me laugh out loud in the empty theater I was watching it in.
4/10 – Mediocre