Mysterious America Reviews

Child’s Play: Are You My Best Friend?

A murderous doll with the ability to control smart devices runs amok in this fresh reboot.

Written by Tyler Burton Smith and directed by Lars Klevberg, Child’s Play (2019) is a remake of the 1988 horror film of the same name. In this version, Chucky is a sabotaged smart-toy who learns violence is cool by watching human behavior. As such, the supernatural elements of the original have been removed. What remains is a contemporary morality play about the dangers of smart technology and our addiction to electronic devices.

Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) is a single mother living in a distressed urban neighborhood with her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Andy’s loneliness leads Karen to give him a Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill) for his birthday. Though visibly dysfunctional, the doll (which calls itself Chucky because it has to, I guess?) imprints on Andy and quickly becomes overprotective.

Andy soon meets two other kids in the apartment building, Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) and Pugg (Ty Consiglio), and the trio play pranks on Karen’s jerkish boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis). Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry) suspects something is amiss. Can Shane and friends rein in Chucky’s violent tendencies before it’s too late?

Child’s Play is the latest horror-franchise reboot, and it was only a matter of time. In the horror pantheon, I would put Child’s Play on a second or third tier behind obvious powerhouses like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th. Its premise of a killer doll is just a little too campy, and the original films do play up the humorous element. Still, Child’s Play has a reliable fan base.

If you love the Child’s Play franchise, you’ll probably love this film. It changes some main elements but keeps enough of the original to satisfy fans. I’m not into the slasher subgenre, but I’d say Child’s Play (2019) was a competent big-budget horror film. It just doesn’t rise to the level of It (2017).

Casting was partly to blame. I’m an Aubrey Plaza fan, but she seemed out of place here. Whether this was a problem with the script, or Plaza being unfamiliar with playing the generic mom role, I can’t say. The casting choice definitely left her comedic strengths rotting on the vine. She would make a much more convincing older sister, camp councilor, or babysitter in a different horror film.

Of the three main child actors, Beatrice Kitsos stands out. She performed admirably in her first feature film, giving Falyn a smart, scrappy personality lacking from the other children. Gabriel Bateman’s performance as Andy was adequate but a little too milquetoast. His character arc from kid too intimidated to make friends to hedge-saw wielding hero isn’t quite believable.

Child’s Play (2019) was writer Tyler Burton Smith’s first full-length screenplay, and it shows. A perfect example where the script fell short was the scene in which a character is attacked while hanging Christmas lights. It appears to be late summer or early fall (hence ripe watermelons). Why on earth is he hanging Christmas lights? Is there no other reason he’d be on a ladder? It’s like Smith just thought that would look cool and wasn’t thinking about the obvious incongruity.

This didn’t seem to bother audiences, who have reacted mostly favorably. Child’s Play (2019) has already grossed around $20 million on a $10 budget, virtually guaranteeing a sequel. I was never a fan of the original film or the franchise, so maybe I missed something, but I did think it was a fun, entertaining horror film with a freshly contemporary message.

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