Let’s start by going back to 1988 and the origins of the Child’s Play film franchise. Tom Holland’s film based on a story by Don Mancini, set the template for a whole series of low budget possessed doll tales, mixing childhood toys with American slasher film themes. In the process giving birth to the horror pop culture figure of Chucky, a foul mouthed and ugly child’s doll holding the spirit and soul of a serial killer. Child’s Play led to multiple sequels, each becoming more ridiculous than last. However, Child’s Play also courted deep controversy in the U.K, as the debate over 1980s ‘video nasties’ entered the public consciousness following two horrific murder cases in the early 1990s. This sparked a public debate and political knee jerk reaction on the roll of films such as Child’s Play in the social development of our children. Often ignoring the purpose of video certificate ratings and responsibilities of parents and adults in regulating their child’s viewing habits.
By 2017 six sequels and a TV series had revolved around the image of Chucky, placing the doll in the horror hall of fame alongside other staples of the cinematic return, including Freddie Kruger and Jason Voorhees.
It was therefore, somewhat of a surprise to hear the original film was going to be re-made, and a red flag to many die hard fans of the original 1988 picture. However, the result is a sharp, funny and truly creative re-imagining of the story and our responsibilities in a world of emerging artificial intelligence. Child’s Play 2019, may play homage to the characters of the original film, but it has no intention of copying aged concepts or themes, opting for a fresh take on well trodden ground.
In a not too distant future where our homes have become connected by single devices, allowing full control over everything from driverless cars to TV channels. Buddi is an automated AI friend to children, helping, supporting, encouraging and playing. The creepy undertones of his filming, recording and cloud based company interaction disguised by big blue eyes and a jovial temperament.
Manufactured through poor wages and slave labour, Buddi is cheap to build and expensive to buy, a glorious social commentary of the global distribution of labour and wealth. However, when a disgruntled Vietnamese factory employee shuts down all the safety protocols on one AI doll after being fired from his work, a new and unique breed of doll is created. One that learns from humans, emotionally, socially and instinctively.
The faulty doll whose eyes turn red, finds its way into the home of single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), after being returned to the shop, where Karen works long shifts to keep her family together.
The Buddi doll now accidentally named Chucky instead of Han Solo, soon finds a place in the family structure. Allowing lonely pre-teen Andy to develop his social circle, while Chucky records all of Andy’s likes and dislikes. Building an unregulated view of human life and social interaction that slowly becomes more and more dangerous to all who upset the human boy he loves. His protective instinct and faulty protocols slowly leading Chucky to taking Andy’s welfare into his own hands, protecting their friendship at any cost.
Directed by newcomer Lars Klevberg from a screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith. Child’s Play is tongue in cheek horror, that takes the classic slasher film of the 1980s and injects modern discussions on AI, globally dominate companies and networked homes. Creating a film that is as much about human responsibility and technical growth as it is about a killer doll.
Deliciously dark humour threads through the story, alongside echoes of Gremlins 1984, Ghost in the Machine 1993 and TV’s Black Mirror series. There are also beautifully constructed scenes where the video nasty debates of the 1980s and 1990s are dovetailed with the emerging identity and learning of the doll. Clearly commenting on real horror laying within the socialisation of humans and not the technology that surrounds us.
Performances are engaging throughout, with Gabriel Bateman shining as the pre-teen Andy, a boy on the verge of teenage life, sitting in the no mans land between childhood emotion and teenage anger. Chucky mirroring this world, without the human ability to discern age and place. While Mark Hamill’s Chucky manages the leap from whimsical childhood friend to sinister out of control doll with ease, creating a far more multi dimensional character than previously seen.
Coupled with a truly creative score from Bear McCreary, and cinematography that plays homage to 1980s horror while injecting the modern glow of our tech driven society, Child’s Play manages a rare feat in cinema, becoming a remake that truly works. Delivering a smart and darkly delicious re-interpretation of a classic 80s film.