7/10 Child’s Play is everything you want out of a remake and a grossly satisfying slasher.
In a Vietnam sweatshop for the Kaslan Buddi, an artificially intelligent doll that can coordinate all of your Kaslan products on command, an employee disables one doll’s safety protocols in retaliation for being fired before jumping out of a window to his death. Later in Chicago, impoverished single mother Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) keeps the defective doll after it is returned to the department store where she works as a gift for her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). The doll names himself Chucky (Mark Hamill) and, for a time, cures Andy of his post-move loneliness. But after seeing how much joy is brought to Andy by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and how much pain by his mother’s suitors, Chucky begins a gory and gleeful homicidal rampage.
Child’s Play is a radical re-imagining of the original concept, removing the serial killer anxiety of 1988 and bringing in modern fears about surveillance technology and poverty. Chucky is an animate, bloodthirsty Amazon Echo, and everywhere in the spaces of Child’s Play, the signs of the American middle class’ unique form of poverty is present. Kaslan products, desperately scrounged in the same manner as Chucky, shine against the Barclay’s rickety Chicago apartment. This is one of the most fiendishly anti-capitalist films I’ve seen, or at least the most specifically venomous toward the current climate.
That’s what remakes need to do, what they need to be. This movie has been in development for a decade, meant to join the Halloween and Friday the 13th remakes in the late ‘00s, but was shelved when those were received poorly. Those movies only got that reception because they did nothing to update their source material. Child’s Play, by contrast, is grounded firmly in 2019.
It’s grounded firmly in its June 20 release date. It’s the second movie about talking toys coming out that exact day, and it had even more specific horror doll company when Annabelle Comes Home released in the middle of the next week. Who knows if that was meant to happen, but advertisers were certainly aware of it.
Child’s Play also brings the virgin/whore complex of traditional slashers, which are incredibly ugly with 30 years’ hindsight, into 2019 with Karen Breyer. In the old moralizing of the ‘80s, the knife was punishment for any engagement with sex and drugs. Where many updated slashers either hang themselves by carrying over this dynamic or eliminate it entirely, Child’s Play actually goes after a modern version of it, portraying Breyer in a way that’s both sympathetic and highly judgmental – Chucky visits both the mouth-breathing janitor who watches her bathe with a hidden camera, but also the married man 20 years her senior that she’s fucking. Plaza is deliberately miscast as a single mother, tasked with bringing a riff on the same Parks and Recreation character she’s been playing for 10 years now into a situation she’s completely unequipped to deal with.
Poverty interrupted by literally predatory space-age technology, along with a couple of absolutely delicious kills, is Child’s Play’s strongest suit, but there’s a lot of weakening half-themes in there. Hints of Chucky framing Andy, as he does in other installments, violence in the media, Stranger Things kids and disability – Andy Breyer is partially deaf – seem less fleshed out, more like remnants of a less-organized-than-it-should-be screenplay than enriching elements of a film.
As much as I love the concept and the brazenness of this film, that’s what sinks it. I can’t recommend its strong theming out of one side of my mouth while talking about how extraneous some of its themes are with the other.