By David Dent
If you’re going to reboot a much-loved 1980s classic, about a murderous toy doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer, you’re going to need to do something a little different to distinguish it from the slew of sequels that followed on from the 1988 movie.
Child’s Play director Lars Klevberg has done just that. He’s kept the spirit of the original film but made some twists that open the story out, allowing him to fetishize and gently parody both the decade of the original movie and our own technology (and nostalgia) obsessed times, and have a lot of fun along the way.
So this time round Chucky’s murderous streak comes not from voodoo but a disgruntled assembly line worker in Vietnam, where the Buddi dolls are manufactured. Facing the sack, the worker takes one of the child-sized toys and disables its violence and language inhibitors, before repacking it for shipping to the US store where eager buyers are waiting to get their hands on the must-have toy of the year.
Fucked Buddi (do you see what I did there?) ends up in the hands of store worker and single mum, down on her luck Karen (Aubrey Plaza, excellent as always) and her hard of hearing son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), where the toy in question has been returned to her place of work as faulty. Andy, morose at being recently relocated to a new town and unimpressed with mum’s new boyfriend, the sinister Henry, is initially nonplussed with a toy he considers himself too old for.
But after a while, he and his Buddi (who names himself ‘Chucky’) form a close bond, and when the doll develops a mimicking potty mouth loner Andy suddenly extends his friends circle. But Chucky’s increasing closeness to Andy becomes worrying, and when the doll’s eyes glow red as that violence inhibitor fails to kick in, there’s big trouble ahead.
Klevberg’s movie is at times very scary, but always with a tongue slightly in its cheek; it moves seamlessly from the Spielbergian (ET was apparently a big influence, and the scenes where the friends try to protect Chucky after his first bout of violence attest to that) to out and out horror – Child’s Play is surprisingly gory for a movie with kids at its centre.
It’s also a lot funnier than I was expecting; predictably Plaza, as a former comedian, gets the best lines as Andy’s young mum (commenting on her son, she says “Yeah I had a very successful Sweet 16”). Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Mike, the son of one of Karen’s neighbours, is also good value. And Mark Hammill voices Chucky excellently, even encouraging us to feel sorry for the toy at one point – it doesn’t last long, mind.
Child’s Play is also a great cultural send up; although located in the present day (the Internet of Things, where electronics have become both linked and sentient, is definitely not a good thing in this movie), in its look and feel it has its heart in the 80s (the model cop car which trumpets the “Stay out of trouble” line from Robocop, and the kids viewing – and dissing as not scary – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, are both sly nods to the decade of the first movie).
There are a couple of clunky moments – an extended gag including a dead body doesn’t really work, for example – but overall this was far better than anyone had a right to expect, a whip smart reboot of a classic horror movie. And on the basis of the ending, a sequel is inevitable.
Two Chucky franchises? I’d buy that for a dollar.
Child’s Play is released in UK cinemas on 21st June.
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