A few years into our current cycle of horror reboots, Hollywood now reaches for the furthest shelf of dusty horror franchises. Child’s Play isn’t widely regarded as a masterpiece or as a turning point in horror history, and its basic concept — a doll on a murder spree — does not lend itself well to a contemporary setting (original screenwriter Don Mancini, who is publicly unhappy about this remake, has wandered far from the original film both in terms of setting and tone in his consistently inventive sequels).
What Child’s Play does have is a deeply morbid premise. In the original film, a single mother offered a damaged but functioning animated doll to her 6-year-old son, unaware that it was possessed with the spirit of a vengeful killer. Seeing this child used by his plastic pal then scorned by his own mother was more upsetting than the film’s gore. In this remake, the opposite is true. While the new Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is still lonely, he is also thirteen years old, which makes the film less disturbing while allowing for more extreme violence.
The new film however maintains the story’s basis in a child’s longing for companionship. When Karen (Aubrey Plaza) gives Andy a doll, it is almost as a joke. But Andy loves video games, and the AI robot soon becomes a kind of friend.
There is no magic involved this time, only sophisticated machinery. Chucky’s deeds are the consequences of a faulty computer program, tampered on early in the film by a frustrated Vietnamese factory worker. Add Andy’s obsession with gadgets, and the critique of technological progress writes itself. But the film sticks instead to the nuts and bolts of survival, and although the whole enterprise rings a little shallow, it still packs a punch. Moving along with great visual flair, its nasty blend of effective jump-scares and graphic gore offers something for everyone.
But this efficiency ultimately adds to the film’s chilling effect. Somewhat perfunctory and detached, its execution echoes Chucky’s cold heart and his one-track mind. Clumsy jokes and an inconsistent tone feel like the work of a robot trying — and failing — to appear human.