Saturday, October 21, 2017

Therapy Doll Charles: Cult of Chucky (2017)

Cult of Chucky (2017)
Ratings: **1/2
Starring: Allison Dawn Doiron, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif

Prior to this entry, Chucky, our pint-sized possessed slasher doll, went back to being "straight scary" in 2013's Curse of Chucky, the franchise's 5th sequel doubling as its first direct-to-video entry. The movie was okay for most parts despite a few "restrictions" the production's considerably smaller budget lead to: Chucky often looks different from one shot to another and his animatronics doesn't look as fluid as the first five films he starred at. There's also the matter that entire film mostly takes place in a single location, showing the budget limits, and its writing and acting could have been better.

Now, I can appreciate a movie for just being fun and Curse thankfully manages to be that albeit its flaws. It seems a lot of people thought so too, so it's not so surprising that another sequel is expected and that leaves me wondering: will lightning strike twice? Will this Cult of Chucky work better than Curse? Or worse?

Set a few months after the last film wherein Chucky murdered almost all of her family, paraplegic Mia is now being institutionalized into believing that she herself committed the killing spree out of spite. As a way to better herself, she is moved to another psychiatric clinic where she is to socialize with other recovering nut jobs suffering from different cases of trauma and/or schizophrenic tendencies.

Rightfully bitter about the murders, Mia's troubles are about to get more unsettling when her group's psychiatrist decided to buy a Good Guy doll (Apparently now available at Hot Topic!) for their sessions as a mean for her and the others to vent out their frustrations or act out fantasies. Adding devastating salt to Mia's wounds, she also gets a visit from a "Miss Valentine" the following day, who claims to be the new (and last) guardian looking after Mia's niece Alice, orphaned after the murders. She's there to (nonchalantly) break the news that Alice "died of a broken heart" sometime after Mia got thrown into intensive care and she's there to hand over Alice's Good Guy Doll as way to remember her by. (Did I mentioned Miss Valentine look awfully a lot like Jennifer Tilly?...wait.)

Eventually, a new wave of deaths makes slim pickings out of Mia's circle of troubled individuals, forcing her to try and convince everyone that Chucky's back and killing them all one by one. In the meantime, certain that a killer doll is indeed behind Mia's family's massacre, a now-adult gun-totting Andy Barclay, the franchise's three-time final boy, keeps an eye on Mia's confinement, all the while being taunted by something, or someone that puts the recent deaths on a stranger note: Chucky's decapitated yet still living head!

Looking at it with a critical eye, Cult of Chucky can be seen as a mixed bag of ideas being shuffled around with no clear thought on which one it wants to be, or at least what to focus on. On one end, it appears Cult wanted to do a serious psychological slasher flick as we get to follow a lot on Mia's confinement, depression and possible paranoia as a wrongfully accused individual, with a few scenes made to look like as if she might be in fact losing her head and could be the one ending people left and right thanks to Chucky's influence. If given the chance, this would have been a bold new direction the franchise could have gone to, something that was actually suggested in the early drafts of the original Child's Play wherein Young Andy was suspected of the murders a bit longer before the reveal was made.

Sadly, whatever attempts Cult tried with this horror-of-the-mind approach are inevitably underwhelmed by the fact that it is, of course, a Chucky film. One with an even stronger connection to the entire Child's Play franchise with references to events and characters from the previous six films. With that, it's not hard to imagine that our infamous Lake Shore Strangler is, no doubt, back in action and out doing what he does best. The only catch this time is that there's a suspected twist that I wouldn't really count as a spoiler since the film itself practically gave it away "as a playful suspicion" about halfway into the movie (or, heck, if you're smart enough, around the first act of the whole friggin movie), but I am just gonna hint that it does explains why lil' Chucky is out killing people at a nuthouse while his still living (and horribly tortured) head is hanging out with Andy at the same time.

This brand of craziness shows Cult remembers its supernatural slasher roots and it gladly still delivers the familiar grue and voodoo mayhem the franchise is known for, but only after juggling the bodycounting elements with artsy psycho thriller shenanigans for about 2/3rds of the movie. It's this cluttered direction that, personally, made Cult of Chucky uneven in its tone and may have missed a few opportunities to better itself, like the re-introduction of Andy Barclay as a potential secondary protagonist or workable side character who, unfortunately, spent doing almost nothing here but torture Chucky and just sounding badass. ("Almost" since, at the near end, he did gut out a Chucky with nothing but his bare hands to retrieve a hidden gun, which was pretty cool) But much like the flawed yet passable Curse of Chucky that came before this, as messy as its direction and tone are, I can't say that I didn't enjoy Cult.

There's a lot of room to improve on, this is true, but I do appreciate Cult's efforts to try something entirely different for the franchise like the introduction of (sort of) strong psychological elements into the fray as well as breaking the rules of its own mythos and hints the return of the new age black comedy started by Bride of Chucky. As any good slasher, the killings have a range of being subtle to downright brutal, packing good old-fashioned practical gore effects, and some of the dialogue by our quip-friendly killer doll have a unsettling creepiness to them as we get to see (or hear) more of his sociopathic tendencies. (Though, this doesn't mean we don't get to see Chucky being his insanely darkly comical self. Watch him have a conversation with "himself". It might not be all that much, but I couldn't stop laughing at the casualness of it all!) Brad Dourif is still cool as Chucky, even if the dolls still have that obvious robotic look on their animatronics save their faces. (Which are actually a lot more emotive compared to Curse's) Fiona Douriff as Mia may not have done much as a more "active" final girl thanks to both her character's handicap and psychological situation, but the brooding turn for her Mia was an interesting watch for most parts and I think Fiona did a fairly good job as a tolerable bitter lead for us to follow.

In the end (figuratively and literally), Cult bid us farewell with a strong hint that its far from over, throwing at us even more faces from the past (entries of the series). Did these cameos got my attention? Yes, yes it did. Am I hoping to see more? Yes, yes I am, but with the way this entry was mostly handled, I am going to say that a good chunk of my expectations for a good Chucky sequel in the future is "wounded" to say the least. For now, all I can say is Cult of Chucky's passable: it's entertaining enough not to be considered the worst, but missed too much marks to be even considered as one of the better entries in the series. If you're a die hard Chucky fan, this is still worth your time, but for everybody else, welp, let's see if anything good is out direct to video lately...

1 girl mentioned dead
1 female found bled to death from a wrist cut
1 female decapitated by falling window shards
1 female choked on killer's arm, had her larynx torn out from the mouth
1 male slaughtered with a broken bottle, letter opener and powerdrill
1 male had his throat cut with a nail file
1 male had his face repeatedly stomped
1 female seen with a powerdrill through her gut
1 male gets powerdrilled through the head
Total: 9