Child's Play (3 stars)

Child's Play

Mark Hamill and Aubrey Plaza team up for this fitfully fun horror remake

Anyone considering revisiting 1988's Child's Play may find it in need of a little freshening up. Despite its 'killer' concept, the years have not been kind to a film now most notable for its animatronic achievements, ability to spawn sequels and Catherine Hicks's impassioned turn as a mother you don't want to mess with.

So, a reboot is not unwelcome, although Don Mancini's devil doll has barely been away – the seventh film in his horror franchise, Cult of Chucky, was released in 2017. And right off the bat, Child's Play 2019 – which boasts a new creative team, including director Lars Klevberg and writer Tyler Burton Smith – sets about fixing some of the original's flaws, as Chucky is given a much-improved reason for being; we see a vengeful sweatshop worker remove all the safety features on a high-tech Buddi doll before sending it out into the world.

We meet Chucky again when Zed Mart employee Karen (Aubrey Plaza) brings the malfunctioning bot home for her teenage son Andy (Gabriel Bateman – like a tiny Ben Whishaw). With the spluttering toy struggling to make sense of his surroundings, he's first an insipid irritant, then an endearing idiot, but eventually makes a loyal companion for the shy, hard-of-hearing boy, who gives him a thorough schooling before things go predictably awry.

For at least some of the revamp's duration, smart ideas and schlock horror combine to entertaining effect. There are lots of new, interesting angles here. Chucky's more sophisticated nature and ability to sync with other devices raises questions relating to artificial intelligence and our tech-dominated lives – and there's pathos in his eventual corruption.

However, the doll design is horrific, and not in a good way, with conspicuous CGI compounding matters. Tonally, too, this remake is a bit of a mess: the score delivers some unwelcome sentimentality, a kid crew are tossed hastily into the mix, and, although a handful of gory set-pieces plant the film's feet firmly in the fun end of the horror spectrum, it could've done with a lot more comic oomph in the script.

How odd that it fails to utilise Plaza to humorous effect, whilst also wasting the excellent Brian Tyree Henry (star of TV's Atlanta and Widows), whose laidback charm barely gets a look-in. But Mark Hamill is a hoot – the actor a canny choice to replace Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky (for those who know Hamill primarily from Star Wars, he's had a prolific career as a voice actor, including several stints as The Joker), and he takes the toy from cutesy to crackpot with audible relish.

Firmly favouring peekaboo-style scares, the lack of suspense can frustrate, while it's not exactly Final Destination in terms of grisly ingenuity. Yet, if the film's cynical edge is underexplored, it certainly rings true. Chucky struggles to comprehend human behaviour, which can be cruel and contrary, and there are plenty queuing up to take advantage of his credulous, obedient nature; he isn't 'born' bad, he learns to behave that way. It's commentary that was absent from the more superficial original – as it suggests maybe, just maybe we get the toys we deserve.

General release from Fri 21 Jun.

Child's Play

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 2h
  • 15
  • Directed by: Lars Klevberg
  • Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill

Chucky (voiced by Hamill) is a high-tech doll whose safety features are removed by a vengeful sweatshop worker and so learns to be bad. Tonally it’s a mess, and the doll design is horrific in a bad way, but there are some good ideas, Hamill is a hoot and it’s good to see Chucky given a reason for being.