Review: CHILD’S PLAY Is Darkly Funny Despite Its Flaws

child's play game
Chucky and Gabriel Bateman in CHILD’S PLAY. Credit: Eric Milner / Orion Pictures.

Garnering a surprising amount of controversy because the original series is still alive and (somewhat) well, the new Child’s Play reboot arrived in theaters with relatively minimal fanfare. Still, the film provides laughs and scares with the evil doll we all know and love, but with a significant twist.

Yes, instead of being a doll possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer, Chucky in this movie is now an artificial intelligence toy whose programming was corrupted by a disgruntled sweatshop worker of an American corporation. Although this does cause some leaps of logic (why does a doll need to have something called a “violence inhibitor”?), it also allows for some interesting commentary on corporate America.

Apart from being about a killer toy named Chucky, this film really doesn’t share many similarities with the original Child’s Play. In fact, if you gave the doll a different name, it could have been a different movie altogether. (There are rumors that the script is a revised form of a rejected stab at the Five Nights at Freddy’s adaptation.)

That said, even though the movie isn’t a carbon copy of the original, it still doesn’t feel particularly fresh or unique. Much of the story is extremely predictable, with the beats and twists being telegraphed far in advance. As a result, it is hard for the film to build a memorable or effective level of suspense since you can easily tell what is going to happen.

The movie is most successful when it embraces the campiness of the premise, approaching the story with a demented sense of dark humor. Granted, some of the jokes feel forced and over-the-top, and after a while it gets old watching a doll using profanity and trying to murder people again and again, but there are plenty of moments to laugh, especially in the beginning.

The kills in the film are impressive enough, though not memorable enough to justify there being so few. The climax of the movie, set in the Zed Mart, is undeniably the most enjoyable sequence, but it is far too short. It feels like they wanted to cut as much as possible to keep the film under an hour and a half, not realizing that audiences would want to see more of the kills and less of the set-up.

Unfortunately, the movie’s character development isn’t nearly good enough to compensate for the flaws in the plot. The human characters simply aren’t that interesting and don’t have a good enough arc. Instead, the most compelling character in the film is Chucky who is, in the most classical sense of the word, the antagonist. We feel bad for the doll because of the way in which he is abused repeatedly by multiple characters. None of the humans have that level of connection.

child's play plaza
Aubrey Plaza and Gabriel Bateman star in CHILDS PLAY. Credit: Eric Milner.

Mark Hamill was an excellent choice for the voice of Chucky. It is very different from the original portrayal by Brad Dourif, but for a reboot like this, it was a good decision to make it feel different. Hamill’s performance captures a similar charming madness to his portrayal of The Joker in the DC animated movies, so it’s quite fun to watch.

However, different isn’t always the best route, particularly when it comes to the visuals. The backgrounds in the film look great, but the character design for Chucky is terrible. It doesn’t look creepy at all — it just looks goofy and overly animated. Re-visiting the original Child’s Play thirty years later, the effects are still impressive. If you were to look back at this reboot in 2049, it would look out-of-date. Heck, if you look back at it next year, it’ll feel old.

The human cast isn’t bad either, although they aren’t given a ton to do in the movie. Gabriel Bateman, who is the lead child actor, does a surprisingly solid job in the role. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from here, as he is able to show sufficient range to break out. Aubrey Plaza is sadly forgettable in her role, but it isn’t her fault, but rather, the fault of the script. Bryan Tyree Henry is awesome as the detective investigating the killing, stealing the screen in every scene he has.

Child’s Play was an enjoyable reboot for what it was, but the chances of it sticking around long in our minds are minimal. That said, it does set up some interesting directions for the series to go in the future, so perhaps we will get a more creative and even more fun follow-up.

Child’s Play is now playing in theaters.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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