Chucky is one of the horror genre’s most enduring icons, and after thirty years and seven films, he’s finally received the remake treatment. Thankfully, the Child’s Play reimagining panned out better than most, giving the character a fresh look, motivation, and set of tools to work with while staying true to the balance of fear, fun, and camp of the 1988 original.
Aside from the basic premise (a boy’s best friend/toy starts murdering people), the 2019 Child’s Play changes almost every aspect of the story. The Chucky doll is no longer possessed by the soul of a serial killer looking for a new host, but instead an artificial intelligence with a twisted sense of fun, his owner Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a teenager instead of a six-year old, and Andy’s mother (played by Aubrey Plaza with her signature charm) spends less time in the spotlight. Chucky’s new abilities, like being able to connect to most electronics and appliances akin to a super advanced Alexa or Google Home, and Andy’s maturity allow for a cat and mouse dynamic between the two that ends just before it gets stale, leading to a third act that’s totally nuts.
The film does a pretty great job of showing Chucky’s descent from a quirky, malfunctioning Buddi Doll that only seems slightly off to a crazed spree killer. Mark Hamil turns in an expectedly great performance as Chucky’s voice (replacing the series’ iconic mainstay, Brad Dourif), almost making the audience feel sorry for the confused toy until his first kill, then his sweet demeanor quickly sours into one that’s full of gleeful menace. The first time Chucky asks “are we having fun yet?” it’s like he legitimately doesn’t know, but it feels more like a sadistic taunt the last time he says it.
Along with Hamil’s voice, the new design for Chucky is absolutely brilliant. With lights in his eyes that can be both childish and menacing even without changing colors, facial features that trigger the uncanny valley effect, the way he walks that evokes the same unease as the original version, and the deliberate effort to use practical effects over CGI (I can’t exaggerate how happy I was that almost all of the movie relied practical effects) give this new iteration everything he needs to assuage the fears of fans who were concerned about the changes.
Unlike Chucky’s appearance and voice, the ingenuity of his kills and the way he stalks his victims hasn’t changed much despite his new bag of deadly tools. The deaths in the Child’s Play franchise have always been creative, sometimes even comical, and Chucky’s connectivity to other devices like speakers, TV’s, cars, phones, and even remote-controlled drones lend themselves to some of the boldest, bloodiest, and best carnage of the series to date, especially in the last third or so of the movie.
With all said and done, Child’s Play is a worthy successor to the original, and does exactly what a remake should do: reinvigorate a franchise with new elements while staying true to what made it special in the first place. It don’t see it bringing in scores of new fans, but it’ll almost certainly please anyone who enjoyed the original three movies.