Child’s Play

The new Child’s Play is a smart reboot for the demon doll franchise, writes MacDara Conroy

The knives were out for this reimagining of the notorious Child’s Play series as soon as it became clear original director and creator Don Mancini would not be involved (and he was hardly quiet about it, either). Blades were sharpened when it emerged that Brad Dourif — a beloved figure so enmeshed with the franchise that even his own daughter has starred in it — wouldn’t be returning to voice Chucky, the killer toy at the middle of the mayhem. And then there were those first images of the new Chucky doll, in which the carefully crafted mood lighting did little to hide the vacant blandness of its appearance. Was that really what they were going for?

For many, its fate was sealed. After all, Hollywood doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record in reviving Eighties shtick for jaded modern audiences. But the finished product, it’s a delight to say, sees Chucky slash at his critics in a tight 90 minutes of crowd-pleasing exploitation fare, the kind that rarely reaches cinemas these days without pandering to the lowest common denominator.

While this remake doesn’t stray too far from its roots — a monstrous doll terrorises a young boy and his mother — it’s the changes to bring things up to date that give second-time feature maker Lars Klevberg and first-time screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith room to play around with more ambitious ideas, giving their take on this twisted toy story a decidedly satirical edge.

Chucky’s ‘birth’, in this version, plays on far more contemporary (and arguably more realistic) concerns than the original’s Voodoo possession, as a harried programmer in a Vietnamese sweatshop deletes the safety protocols from a WiFi-connected ‘Buddi’ doll before flinging himself from the factory roof. The affected smart toy gets shipped to a strip mall in some unnamed US metropolis, where it’s salvaged from the reject bin — glowing red eyes, you see — by overworked widow Karen (Aubrey Plaza) as a gift for her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman).

While he’s not exactly jazzed — what does a young teen want with a kid’s doll, even if it can walk and talk and connect to the internet? — he soon warms to its quirky charms, not least its ability to learn swear words. The doll itself has more character than the initial marketing suggests, with some genuinely creepy facial expressions, and the new voice of Chucky, Mark Hamill, brings the same kind of sinister mischievousness to the role as he imbued the Joker in Batman’s animated incarnation.

Chucky’s lack of a filter also endears the friendless Andy to neighbours Pugg (Ty Consiglio) and Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos), who are more than up for using the toy to prank the nasty boyfriend of Andy’s mom. All the while, of course, Chucky is picking up on innocuous — and some not so innocuous — social cues and situations to fuel his inevitable murderous streak, starting with the house cat that Andy says he can’t stand…

That sets the stage for a riotous comedy-slasher that cleverly blends a stew of disparate themes, some of which have been around for years (rogue AI, corporate greed) and others more here and now (the perils of connected devices versus the benefits of tech like hearing aids), with a smattering of kids-gang action adventure, and some good old-fashioned splatter and gore, deployed sparingly but with tremendous effect — leading to a bravura finale at a toy shop that will have you screaming “Why?! Why did they make that?!” But in a good way.

Child’s Play opens in selected cinemas nationwide on Friday June 21st

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