“Child’s Play” (2019) actually surprised me by being a little more ambitious and well rounded than the typical reboot of an 80’s slasher franchise. Screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith tries to present audiences with a fresh, updated horror film with funny, engaging, likable characters. And he mostly succeeds — it helps that the cast is roundly quite good in their roles. (The voice of Chucky is none other than Mark Hamill.) There is some discomfiting dark humor here, too, that makes for some great, guilty fun.
But this “Child’s Play” is doomed to suffer in comparison to the 1988 original. The very first “Child’s Play” was a particularly scary film, even if its sequels were much less so; I remember people screaming in the theater when I saw it with my high school friends. This new movie doesn’t come close to matching it in that manner.
Smith’s update abandons the admittedly campy premise of the original, in which a serial killer employs voodoo to transfer his soul into an interactive doll. Smith gives us something that is more plausible — a malfunctioning A.I. that turns homicidal partly because its programming leads it to. His take is interesting … Chucky is even a little sympathetic at first — he’s a childlike, vaguely cute robot, and his mischievous young owner is at least partly responsible for his early, less frightening transgressions.
This all works on a certain level. It’s smarter than its 80’s source material. It might have been gold if it had been fleshed out by a science fiction screenwriting master like Charlie Brooker, of “Black Mirror” fame. Or, better yet, why not the writers for HBO’s brilliant “Westworld,” which proceeds from essentially the same basic story concept?
Alas, we can’t have our cake and eat it too, at least in this case. The new Chucky is a more intelligent story concept but a less menacing bogeyman. He just can’t hold a candle to the voodoo-infused, sociopathic demon-doll voiced by the legendary Brad Dourif so long ago. The new “Child’s Play” isn’t quite scary enough for our expectations, and that’s a serious criticism for a horror movie.
All things considered, I’d rate this a 7 out of 10.