There’s an art to a good reboot, and the 2019 version of Child’s Play was a genuine surprise in that it got the mix of familiar and new just right. Don Mancini’s Child’s Play movies were a good example of the diminishing returns that sequels provided in the 80’s and 90’s. Taking the Zuni-doll from Trilogy of Terror and giving it some slasher-movie moves was a potent force back then, so potent that the films were banned by the UK government after being cited as inspiration for violent acts we won’t go into here. Invention curdled, the concept got stale and the whole package needed a re-think; Lars Klevberg’s film does exactly that.
Firstly, the notion of a serial killer’s soul entering a doll is junked, perhaps wisely given that rival properties The Prodigy and Annabelle both riff on that idea. Instead, Child’s Play as a socially relevant sci-fi angle whereby a disgruntled employee at the Kaslan corporation sabotages a doll at the company’s Vietnam factory. By footerimg with the dolls circuitry, he turns a Buddi doll, trusted and loved by children, into a creature with no sense of right or wrong; the children are initially stunned and then attracted by Buddi’s ability to swear and act irresponsibly (Mark Hamill provides the creepy voice). By positioning Buddi, or Chucky as he’s briefly known here, as something created and developed by 2019’s economic apartheid, Tyler Burton Smith’s script removes much of the hokiness involved in the conceit, and offers opportunities for trenchant satire.
And the reboot also finds a happy centre in Aubery Plaza, an actress closely associated with hipster values via Parks and Rec, but also someone who embodies snark; she’s just the right cynical person to be set against Chucky’s sarcastic quips. She’s slow to realise that the doll she’s gifted her son is a murderous monster, but it’s fun watching her figure it out, with gruesome killings for interlopers including death by lawn-mover and a severed head wrapped in wrapping paper and gifted to an unfortunate neighbour.
Genre fans will enjoy the casting of Brian Tyler Henry and Tim Matheson, and there’s also a wild department-store finale that sees drones, dolls and all manner of inanimate objects springing to life and attacking shoppers. It’s easy to see why the Stephen King of Maximum Overdrive would get a kick out of this film, which offers a nice mesh of black humour, social satire and outrageous gore.