Nostalgia can cover up a multitude of flaws. There’s recently been a spate of horror remakes and with it the usual indignant criticisms that the originals were classics, conveniently disregarding how corny they really were, yes, I’m looking at you Pet Sematary. So already audiences have turned against this remake of Child’s Play, seemingly forgetting the flaws of the original. The problem with horror icons, like Chucky or Freddie Krueger, is that as the characters get more popular they end up campy rather than scary. The later Chucky films are a lot of fun to watch as black comedies but they aren’t really horror. Lars Klevberg‘s version of Child’s Play might not be perfect but it plays the horror straight, and is all the better for it.
Struggling single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) finds a faulty ‘Buddi’ doll at work, she gives it to her deaf son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) for his birthday. Equipped with the ability to record video and sound, and sync up with all compatible devices around him, the newly-named Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) quickly bonds with Andy. However, the toy’s behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, and it falls to Andy to stop him.
The crucial difference between the two versions is the origin of Chucky. Gone is the voodoo transference and instead his personality is the result of some factory sabotage. This might seem a minor change but it speaks volumes about the differences between the depictions of the character. Brad Dourif’s iconic version was a malevolent psychopath, whereas Hamill initially voices Chucky as a childlike toy, who just doesn’t understand morality and can’t tell fiction from real life. Like Frankenstein’s monster, he’s scary but in an innocent, guileless way, which is much more eerie.
This version is smart enough to realise that the plot hinges on the relationship between Andy and Chucky. I totally bought that the lonely Andy would bond with this faulty, idiosyncratic Chucky doll. Hamill does an excellent job portraying the confusion and anger in Chucky, and mixes it with a gleeful mania when he finally lets loose. Meanwhile Bateman gives a really mature performance as Andy; there’s a genuine sense of pathos when he realises he has to destroy his friend, more like Of Mice And Men than a horror movie.
Unlike other recent horror remakes, Child’s Play thankfully shies away from emulating the style of eighties movies, and instead captures the tone of these films. There is still some really stylish cinematography, especially in the final scenes. There are some spectacularly gory set-pieces, and genuinely funny moments, mainly involving Chucky or Brian Tyree Henry‘s hapless detective. The film isn’t without its problems though, much as the director tries, he can’t recreate the chemistry of the gang from Stranger Things or It and some of the child actors are quite grating. Also, Chucky’s new design is pretty uninspired. It’s neither as iconic or adorable as the original doll, and is just a bit forgettable.
When a film is as inventive as this though it’s easy to forgive a couple of flaws. It’s brimming with ideas, and none of them feel laboured. Chucky’s new abilities are fun but more interesting is the idea that he’s corrupted by the kids being desensitised to violence, watching horror movies and teaching him swear words. He’s only trying to join in, albeit in a horrifically misguided way. Leaving aside the question of whether or not a remake was necessary, Child’s Play is a pleasant surprise. It’s a lot of fun throughout and accomplishes everything it sets out to do, getting the balance just right between scares, gore and comedy. Purists may prefer Dourif’s portrayal but as a film this is a vast improvement on the original.