Stephen Hawking, the late world-renowned scientist, warned us about artificial intelligence. He basically said we should be careful because artificially intelligent machines could eventually become sentient beings, putting humans in peril. I’m not a fan of all the A.I. platforms myself, and cringe at the thought of a disembodied voice greeting me or selecting my favourite playlists on command. The new Child’s Play, directed by Lars Klevberg, bases its horror around the concept of an autonomous automaton, modernizing the lore of Chucky and his voodoo origins.
Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a lonely kid. Moving into a new apartment with his young mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza), he is more concerned with his smartphone than making friends. He’s hearing-impaired and self-conscious about it, and his mother desperately wants him to be more social. Her job at the local Zed Mart is tedious with customer returns and complaints, and she is surrounded by the latest toy, Buddi, an interactive doll. Hooked up to the Kaslan Industries multifaceted smart system, it can connect with virtually any appliance and anticipate its owner’s needs and emotions. When someone returns a Buddi doll because it’s faulty, Karen takes it home to Andy in the hopes of cheering him up. Andy is dubious of the doll at first, but soon he finds it charming with its mimicry and seeming intelligence. It names itself Chucky and they soon become inseparable until sinister events lead Andy to believe there is more to Chucky than just a computer chip.
Was a reboot to this iconic 80s franchise necessary? Probably not, but we can’t stop the reboot railroad. And if we can’t stop it, then I hope we get reboots like this one. It’s clever, draws on the first original Child’s Play film and has an updated story that works for the most part. It’s clever with its tongue in cheek self-awareness and speaks to the crutch of technology that’s slowly but surely taking over our lives. The film also calls attention to exploited workers in the global electronics market. Reports of overworked, underpaid and dehumanized worker bees assembling our modern electronics has been numerous, making a larger social commentary within a darkly comedic horror film.
Bateman was really, really good as the angst-ridden Andy, and coupled with his gang of fellow world-weary, latchkey kids, gave us some fun moments. I also have to mention Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk) who plays Detective Mike, Andy’s neighbour. His banter with his mother Doreen (Carlease Burke) was pretty adorable. Chucky himself was something else all together. I love me some Brad Dourif, but you have to admire Mark Hamill’s vocal talent as the murderous doll. He was every bit as creepy as that hideous reimagining, and hats off to the FX team for creating that horrifying doll face.
Plaza reined in her usual quirky style to for a decent performance considering what she was given to work with. Karen was one dimensional and somewhat predictable, reinforcing the desperate single mom trope. It’s understandable that there is some reality to the character being a young, unprepared mother, but the script didn’t do her character any justice by making her a wishy-washy caricature. Add a less-than-desirable boyfriend played by Canadian fixture Adam Lewis, and Karen just becomes sad. There’s also an unnecessary animal death, so be forewarned those who are sensitive.
Overall, this Child’s Play reboot is a fun update to the slasher doll who won’t quit. See it for Hamill’s doll gone mad performance, creepy janitors, nods to classic horror and a surprising comment on our obsession with artificial intelligence and consumerism.