Review: Child’s Play (2019)

It feels necessary to preface this review by saying I have never watched a Child’s Play film before yet still feel this film had no reason to carry that name besides easier marketing. This is essentially Siri in the form of an uncanny, child-friendly toy, an electronic babysitter gone awry. In fact, its weakest moments stem from its need to engage with the elements that defined those earlier films.

From the earliest scenes, I feel Child’s Play sets itself up as effectively campy. An angered worker in a Vietnamese factory essentially flips Chucky’s kill switch to on; he quickly removes safety protocols which are presented in such a way that suggests violence was a default state that had to be programmed away. It’s the type of absurd statement that immediately frames the movie in a certain light, that nothing here is to be taken seriously. Child’s Play is knowingly trash cinema, but in a surprisingly sufficient way. Where many films that intentionally engage with low quality premises slack off with presentation, this is a surprisingly sleek work.

This is a horror comedy, and a large problem with this genre is that most films that label themselves as such are merely comedies with a horror setting; they rarely attempt to actually be scary. Child’s Play goes all in on the absurd, yet certain sequences carry a surprising sense of dread.

What makes the first half of this film so effective is the relationship between Chucky and his owner, Andy. As a robot companion, Chucky is presented as wanting nothing more than making Andy happy. His tendency toward violence is hilariously established as being based around watching Andy and his friends enjoying a horror movie; the film has a lot of fun with showing how Chucky becomes so twisted despite starting innocently, making him border on sympathetic.

The most effectively horrifying moments of this film come not from the evil doll but Andy coping with how this device keeps twisting his words into increasingly horrifying acts. It’s a story of backfiring desires, Chucky playing a genie granting what it interprets to be wishes. These acts hang over the film, Andy racking up guilt as Chucky explains his twisted logic by linking it back to what Andy has said.

The problem is that this is a Child’s Play film, and it feels the need to get to the point where the doll goes from dangerously ignorant to intentionally malicious. The camp joy is largely seeped out when Chucky switches from trying to make Andy happy to jealously seeking revenge. It was a surprisingly novel idea to have the antagonist believe he was somehow helping the protagonist, why change it to something so overplayed halfway through?

I was expecting nothing from this film going in, and I was surprised at how effectively it carried its atmosphere. The campiness, the incredibly dark humor, the legitimate sense of dread at times, it seemed a step above the average movie that settles into an attempt at becoming a cult classic. That it returns so suddenly to the familiar is a shame; there’s something unique at the heart of this film that couldn’t be sustained while being used in the eighth work of a semi-mainstream franchise. You can only stray so far.

Child’s Play feels like a minor success that doesn’t seem sure of its own audience. I can imagine many fans of the franchise being annoyed with the change to Chucky’s drive, while non-fans are likely less inclined to give it a shot and will likely be distracted by the change in focus.

At its peak, however, Child’s Play operates as a delightful spoof of the ‘evil technology’ ethos that fuels works such as Black Mirror, and it’s successful enough in that regard that I am willing to give a reserved recommendation.

3 Stars Out of 5

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