Child’s Play 2019 is a Decent Romp

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.

Bateman as the lonely Andy.

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.

Chucky 2019 at his finest.

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.

The Ranger Comes to Shudder!

What happens when young punk rockers do bad things, hide out in nature, and piss off a diligent and psychotic forest ranger? You’ll need to watch Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger to find out.

Chelsea (Chloe Levine) is an introspective young woman running with a rowdy bunch.  During a raid at a punk show, Chelsea is cornered by a cop, who is stabbed by her protective and rebellious boyfriend Garth (Granit Lahu).  The group of kids narrowly escape capture and make off to Chelsea’s dead uncle Pete’s (Larry Fessenden) cabin deep in the mountains.  They meet a forest ranger (Jeremy Holm) at a rest stop who recognizes Chelsea because when she was a girl, he rescued her after her uncle died in hunting accident. 

Levine as Chelsea

At the cabin hideout, her cronies begin to party and desecrate the forest around them, upsetting Chelsea.  Fraternizing with punks who don’t seem value much except drugs and loud music doesn’t suit her.  She begs her friends to be more respectful of their surroundings, but they ignore her and suffer the consequences of disturbing the Ranger’s domain.  Terror and death plague them, and Chelsea struggles with a secret the Ranger holds over her head as she fights for her life.

The kids. This is just “no place to party”!

Wexler, along with writer Giaco Furino, turns the urban/suburban slasher into a severe, rule-abiding entity with seemingly omniscient powers.  The Ranger is in touch with nature in a very psychotic way, and plays off of Chelsea’s fish out of water persona in the big city.  Wexler also gives us a band of rotten teens reminiscent of the lot in Return of the Living Dead, and offers a decent throwback to 80s horror for her feature-length debut. You’ll see some effective kills, a mandatory Fessenden appearance (the film is backed by his Glass Eye Pix production company), a driving punk soundtrack and a same-sex couple to boot. 

The cast gave solid performances as caricatures of destructive punks, and Levine plays a fantastic final girl with lots of heart and determination. Holm, a familiar face on House of Cards and Mr. Robot, is memorable and super-weird as The Ranger, making Wexler a director to watch. In fact, I hope she has a prequel coming because we need to know all about the origins of nature’s slash-daddy!

Holm as The Ranger

See why The Ranger was buzzed about at SXSW in 2018, gained several nominations, and a win for best soundtrack at Fantaspoa International Film Festival on May 9th when it streams on Shudder!