By Thom Ernst
The late-70s through 80s were bumper decades for horror franchises. Not only have films like Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Halloween (1978), Predator (1987) and Alien (1979) spawned endless sequels, but each of them has enjoyed a reboot. Now Chucky, who began his animatronic life in Child’s Play (1988), becomes the most recent horror veteran to get updated. The result is a surprisingly entertaining, gory delight. Even hard-lined horror abstainers can comfortably enjoy the film’s grim humour and excessively over-the-top carnage.
One of the most unexpected pleasures about the Child’s Play reboot is watching Aubrey Plaza at work. Simply put, Plaza has one of the most delightful on-screen auras in current cinema and though her role here as Karen Barclay, the hard-working single mom who has fallen on hard times, is not overtly comedic, her easy charm lends itself beautifully to the film’s playful tone.
The details of why Karen and her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) are left to start life anew is not fully explained, although there is a suggestion that they’ve been unceremoniously abandoned. This leaves both mom and son vulnerable to people who might prey on their need for affection and companionship: Mom to the insensitive bonehead, Shane (David Lewis) and Andy to the technically altered, excessively needy computerized Buddi Doll. We know him as Chucky.
The movie diverts from the original film’s conceit where Chucky is possessed by the spirit of a deranged serial killer to having Chucky turn evil through a technical glitch orchestrated by a disgruntled employee. Somehow the idea of Chucky possessed seems more feasible than programming a doll to do harm, but the distinction is arguably moot. Whether by voodoo or encoding, Chucky remains a cold and calculating killer with a preference for murder through the most heinous and painful methods. And it’s not hard to spot the victims as they appear on the screen: they’re the bullies and creeps who make life tough for Andy. Forklifts, pumpkins, Christmas lights, buzz saws, vehicles and any variations of utensils and garden tools all find a way into Chucky’s creative arsenal.
Mark Hamill provides the deceitfully friendly voice of Chucky. Remembering that it’s Hamill we’re listening to when Chucky spins his wicked and sinister demands to both Andy and victims alike adds to the film’s fun. Hamill seems to be having the time of his life embodying the role that was once the distinct property of Brad Dourif.
If Child’s Play stumbles a bit in its attempt to comment on the increasing expansion of modern technology and its effect on everyday life, it’s probably because it prefers not to be taken too seriously. After all, Child’s Play is a horror film propelled on the implausible and the impossible. But what might be the film’s most unbelievable feat is that it succeeds while maintaining its B-movie status.
Child’s Play. Directed by Lars Klevberg. Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill (voice of Chucky), Tim Matheson, and Brian Tyree Henry. Opens wide June 21.