Child’s Play: Unexpected reboot proves to be surprisingly enjoyable

Review: Comic horror deserves immortalisation for its shameless trolling of Toy Story 4

Child's Play
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Director: Lars Klevberg
Cert: 16
Genre: Horror
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill
Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins

If there were no other reason to recommend this unexpected reboot (and, for once, the film really can be so defined) then it would deserve immortalisation for its shameless trolling of Toy Story 4. It’s not just that they’ve released this story of a toy with a malign life of its own on the same day as the Pixar sequel.

It’s not just that the posters have shown dismembered cowboy dolls and banjaxed stretchy dogs. Okay, the young protagonist was always called Andy, but keeping the name feels like one more cheeky provocation. The film-makers could hardly have made their intentions more explicit if they’d visited John Lasseter’s house and mooned in the front window.

Against the odds, there are other reasons to investigate Lars Klevberg’s enjoyable comic horror. The new version of Chucky, brand-named as Buddi, is an electronic plaything that connects to the other devices in a home’s “internet of things”. It seems likely that Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri will inspire many more horror films, but kudos to this venerable series for getting in there first.

The satire is rarely subtle, but it exists. We begin with a frustrated, abused worker in Asia reacting against one more outrage by disabling all the safety controls on a Buddi doll. Over in America, Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza, slumming it in style) is struggling to make a life for herself in a nameless US city that looks oddly like Vancouver because it actually is Vancouver. Her young son, yes, Andy (Gabriel Bateman) spends all his time on the phone and is unimpressed when Mom, who works in a toy store, gets him a big doll as an early birthday present. I mean, like, if it were a doll that swore profusely and ploughed rivals to death with a rotovator then that would be fine. Oh, hang on . . .


The decision to make Chucky a killer robot has its problems. The earlier films generated unease from the deathly otherness of the silent, staring doll that – like the heroes of Toy Story – takes on an unholy life when it's not being observed. Voiced with slippery menace by Mark Hamill, the current version is revealed as a back-talking ambulatory pest the moment the packaging is removed. Nobody is surprised that he can walk and talk; it is what he does with his artificial intelligence that ultimately takes the family aback. The refrain "he's just a toy!" doesn't have the same frustrating weight when Chucky has already revealed more social skills than the average Deadpool fanatic.

Then again, the Child's Play films were only partly about horror. (The ill-advised scenes here that find Chucky copying the violence in a Friday 13th film remind us of the tabloid stories that falsely tied Child's Play to the James Bulger murder.) By the time we got to the excellent Bride of Chucky in 1998, the franchise had fully embraced comic macabre no more frightening than that in Carry on Screaming.

Beginning the film with a vintage logo for Orion Films points us back towards the franchise's origins in the 1980s. There are some gross-out moments here, but, rather than failing to quite equal Driller Killer, this Child's Play spends most of its time not quite equalling the Joe Dante of Gremlins. It's an honourable aim and Aubrey Plaza, professor at the University of Deadpan, has exactly the right tone for the long descent into clattering mayhem.

No scheduling has been quite so shady since 20th Century Fox released that remake of The Omen on June 6th, 2006 (6/6/6, get it?), but Child’s Play deserves some return for its chutzpah. After all, the franchise, launched in 1988, set loose its possessed doll a full seven years before Toy Story changed the industry. There’s room in our cinemas for both.

Opens on June 21st

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist