Struggling mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) gives her teenage son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a doll for his birthday. Buddi is your friend, and can connect to all your household devices to make life easier! But what happens when your best buddy reveals a more sinister, aggressive, and controlling side that never wants to be apart?
While I never had any pretences that 2019’s Child’s Play would be a horror classic, I had hoped it would be smarter than this. Updating a voodoo-possessed toy with AI gone wrong is an undeniably scary concept in the modern world of Siri and Alexa. We’ve already seen solid adaptations of 80s and 90s horror in the last two years, like Pet Sematary. However, Lars Klevberg’s film falls so far below expectations it’s shocking. I can accept a pulpy horror film, or a pure jump-scare fest. Child’s Play, however, sunk far lower than of these crimes – it was downright lazy. The film smacked of a committee-made project with nothing but a deadline in mind, meaning it had nothing new to contribute to the horror genre beyond the lowest hanging fruit possible.
Norwegian director Klevberg is most famous for Polaroid – a recent cut-and-dried teen possession film. Hardly a stellar resume for managing the reboot of a cult-favourite franchise, but safe hands, surely. Instead, Child’s Play is a disaster, pulling no punches when it comes to the film’s two easiest social commentary targets; Capitalism and technology. Chucky’s evil origins stem from a fight between a factory worker and floor manager in a Vietnamese sweatshop. A good setup for social dialogue – but rather than going for the jugular about the West’s over-reliance on cheap labour, Child’s Play dances around the idea. Ditto for showing technology to be a terrifying force when gone wrong. Chucky’s ability to use everyone’s devices against them is made to seem like a mistake – a wasted opportunity to show us the consequences of a fully connected life. Horror films are meant to be the genre for subverting social norms – Child’s Play didn’t even try.
The script is wafer thin – again, perhaps inexperience is a factor here, with Tyler Burton Smith in his first project. The characters are one-dimensional, with inexplicable narrative choices and leaps in character building contributing to baffling decisions that lose you early on and keep you lost. One the most irritating elements of the plot was protagonist Andy’s burgeoning friendship with the neighbourhood kids. Oscillating between indifference to him and outright bullying, their banding together to fight Chucky at the film’s climax seems ridiculous. In fact, the decisions smacked of a straight cash in on the ‘Loser Club’ chemistry of 80s-inspired It and Stranger Things. It didn’t work at all for me, despite being the film’s cathartic release for Andy’s narrative arc.
The acting was mostly non-descript. Gabriel Bateman cruised along as a mildly likeable protagonist. Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan humour could have added more to a campy script, but she’s lost here. Mark Hammill’s surprising turn as the voice of Chucky is great; he’s the film’s highlight. Further, the doll’s design and humanisation is the scariest bit of Child’s Play. However, it’s so creepy outright that, like a lot of the film, it just doesn’t seem believable that anyone would buy it.
If Child’s Play was intended to reboot the franchise, we need to return this model for repairs now. Aggressively obvious and lazy, this doll-gone-wrong story is simply awful. 2.5/10.