Child’s Play (Review)

Let’s start by going back to 1988 and the origins of the Child’s Play film franchise. Where Tom Holland’s film based on a story by Don Mancini, helped set the template for a whole series of possessed doll tales. Mixing the innocence of childhood toys with American slasher film themes born in the late 1970s. In the process giving birth to the horror pop culture figure of Chucky. A foul-mouthed child’s toy holding the spirit and soul of a serial killer. Creating a franchise of multiple sequels and spin-offs, each becoming more and more ridiculous.

However, this was a film that 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. In turn, sparking knee jerk political inventions on the damaging role of films such as Child’s Play. While ignoring the purpose of video certificate ratings and responsibilities of parents and adults in regulating their child’s viewing habits. (These themes are further explored in our retrospective exploration of The Good Son 1993)

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 Freddie Kruger and Jason Voorhees.

It was, therefore, a surprise to hear that the original film was to receive a fresh update. Many fans appalled that anyone would dare touch the original 1988 picture. However, the result is a sharp, funny and genuinely creative re-imagining of the story. Placing human responsibility in a world of emerging artificial intelligence centre stage. And while Child’s Play 2019, may pay homage to the characters of the original film. It also has no intention of copying the aged concepts or themes of the original, opting for a decidedly fresh take on well-trodden ground.

In a not too distant future where our homes have finally become interconnected media hubs of technology. Buddi has been created to act as an automated AI friend to children. Helping with homework, while also serving as an educational mentor. The doll filming and recording his interaction with children. At the same time, as sending valuable data to his cloud-based makers, through his big blue eyes.

Manufactured by people subject to reduced wages and slave labour in developing countries. Buddi is cheap to build and expensive to buy. A glorious example of our globalised marketplace. However, on being fired from his job, a disgruntled employee decides to take the ultimate revenge by shutting down all the safety protocols on one of the AI dolls. Creating a brand new breed of the toy, 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 by a customer to the shop where Karen works long shifts to keep her family together. With the Buddi doll finding a reluctant young carer in the hands of pre-teen Andy. Who uses the toy to build to his social circle, while the doll, in turn, records all of Andy’s likes and dislikes. Ultimately creating an unregulated view of human life. While slowly becoming more and more dangerous to anyone who dares upset the human boy he loves. His protective instinct and faulty protocols gradually leading the doll to take Andy’s welfare into his own hands.

Directed by newcomer Lars Klevberg from a screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith. Child’s Play is a delightful tongue in cheek horror. Taking the classic slasher film of the 1980s and injecting it with current discussions on AI. Ultimately creating a film that is as much about human responsibility, as it is a killer doll.

Deliciously dark humour threads through the story, alongside echoes of Gremlins, Ghost in the Machine and TV’s Black Mirror series. While beautifully constructed scenes dissect the video nasty debates of the 1980s and 1990s. Commenting on the real horror laying within the socialisation of humans in controlling 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 adolescent anger. With Chucky mirroring this world, without the human ability to discern age and place. At the same time, Mark Hamill’s Chucky manages the leap from a whimsical childhood friend to sinister out of control doll with ease. Creating a far more multi-dimensional character than previously seen.

Coupled with a genuinely original score from Bear McCreary. And cinematography that pays 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 genuinely works. Delivering a smart and darkly delicious re-interpretation of a classic 80s film.

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