The new Child’s Play film starring Aubrey Plaza is far from perfect and one fatal flaw dooms it from the start.
As a successful, albeit niche, horror franchise, the Chucky movies have always walked the line between exceedingly fun and remarkably silly. The very premise of the franchise — a murderer possesses a child’s toy to escape from the police — requires the audience to accept the farcical plot to make sense of the world of Child’s Play.
The later installments in the series refused to back down from the bizarre conceit of the franchise. In fact, they doubled down on Chucky’s zany world, giving him a wife and even a child in the subsequent movies while never losing touch of the unique and caustic tone of the series.
The new Child’s Play, which functions more as a reimagining than an actual reboot since the original franchise never officially ended, seeks to introduce the unconventional terror of Chucky to a new generation. Unfortunately, the finished product leaves a lot to be desired.
The new Child’s Play can be summed up with a single word: Lazy. Everything from the script to the performances to the direction feel done with a level of complacency and disinterest that it’s a wonder the movie even got made. However, of all the flaws in Child’s Play, there’s one choice that dooms it from the start.
The fatal flaw of ‘Child’s Play’
The opening minutes of Child’s Play play like an infomercial in order to introduce us to the Buddi dolls. Created by a massive multinational conglomerate named the Kaslan Corporation, Buddi dolls are akin to Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri — except far more advanced. The Buddi dolls are capable of “imprinting” on a child, controlling any and all Kaslan technology including TVs and cars, and accessing endless information through the cloud.
It makes perfect sense that a Child’s Play reboot in 2019 would integrate advanced artificial intelligence into the plot. After all, technology has changed a lot in the 30 years since the release of the original Child’s Play. However, the movie makes the fatal decision to make the technology itself the enemy.
In the first act, after introducing the audience to these high-tech dolls and to mother-son duo Karen and Andy, the movie cuts to a factory in Vietnam where the Buddi dolls are manufactured. In this one scene, an employee sitting idly at his work station gets unfairly fired by his abusive supervisor. In what appears to be an act of retaliation, the employee changes the code on the Buddi doll at his station, removing certain safety measures that exist to ensure the doll doesn’t pose a threat to its owners. After changing the code and sending the doll off on its way, the employee kills himself.
This scene manages to be both the most compelling element and the fatal flaw of the new Child’s Play. The fundamental problem is that by turning the intended villain into simply a piece of technology gone wrong, the script undermines the dramatic tension of the story. For all intents and purposes, this choice turns Child’s Play into an overly long episode of Black Mirror. Each scene repeats the same conceit over and over again — a bad doll does bad things because it’s broken. That may work for a short film, or even an episode of TV, but for a feature length movie, the result is mind-numbing.
There’s nothing all that exciting about watching a bad guy that is simply the result of some bad coding. This isn’t helped by the fact that the audience is in the know so early in the film; by revealing Chucky’s defect in the first act, Child’s Play lacks any questions to motivate the plot. What we’re left with is a story of a family terrorized by a defective doll. It’s a snooze!
The original Child’s Play featured a possessed Chucky, a choice that made him feel like a real character instead of a piece of malfunctioning software. In the original films, Chucky’s possession gave the character an narrative arc, one that complicated his status as a villain by making him both the protagonist of his own story and the villain of another. This new iteration is so focused on making something quote-unquote relevant that it turns an iconic villain into a dramatically inert narrative device.
A far more interesting reboot of Child’s Play might have committed to turning that one scene in Vietnam into a full length film. If the writers of this movie wanted something relevant, they had the perfect opportunity to make a movie about the intersection and impacts of American consumerism, outsourced manufacturing, and technological advances. That one scene raises more interesting ideas than most of the movie!
Alas, this potential appears lost on creators behind the new Child’s Play.