Saturday, June 29, 2019

You Are My Buddi: Child's Play (2019)

Child's Play (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman

When I first heard about the talks regarding a then-possible Child's Play reboot, you can bet your ass that I was among the plenty who found the idea problematic as not only is the original franchise still active, but I really doubt there's a high demand for a re-imagining. Then again, the last we saw of Chucky have the killer toy possessing not only three to four (count it, three to four!) Good Guy dolls at the same time through a voodoo spell he found at a website, but also the body of a paraplegic girl who he miraculously cured into walking. Yeah, hard to follow if yet gonna jump right into it without knowing what happened in the previous titles, so I guess a fresh take might not be such a bad idea...

In this reboot, a multinational electronics corporation known as Kaslan developed a self-learning AI doll known as Buddi, packed with features including audio and video recording, syncing with other Kaslan products and controlling them to fit their owners' needs, and move by themselves for maximum playtime. In other words, a robot servant with an animatronic face, one bad programming away from going haywire.

And as you would have it, on a dark and stormy night all the way to a Buddi assembly factory at Vietnam, a disgruntled worker reprograms a random doll by removing all of its safety features as revenge for being fired and as a secretive last minute "fuck you" to the company before committing suicide.

Cut to Chicago some time later, young mom Karen Barclay and her 13 years old hearing-impaired son Andy just moved to the busy city neighborhood, with Karen working a frustrating retail job at a store selling Kaslan goods while Andy spends most of his days inside the apartments watching Youtube videos. Rightfully concerned about her son's lack of social skills and believing Andy's just exhausted from the move, Karen decided to gift him one day an early birthday present; a defective Buddi doll she got under the table. (My guess its the same one from the Vietnam sweatshop. I dunno why, perhaps something about its eyes mentioned glowing red...)

At first, Andy isn't quite keen on having his own Buddi doll coming from the fact that he is in his preteens and that the doll itself is pretty glitchy as it names itself Chucky, fails to follow a few simple orders and, more or less, just creepy. But as time flies by, Andy grew to like having Chucky around since his glitches left him capable of doing anything without much limitations like learning swear words and enjoy pranking jerks and creeps surrounding Andy's life. This soon caught the attention of local kids Falyn and Pugg, who eventually befriend Andy and all seems well.

That is until Chucky starts getting too attached to Andy, harming those who physically and emotionally hurt the boy to an increasingly worrying degree. When Karen's arse of a boyfriend got abusive during one visit, things quickly escalates to bloody ends and Andy is left face to face with the matter that his Buddi have gone psycho when it gifted him one morning the freshly flayed face of his mom's boyfriend. (Nailed on a melon for some reason)

What soon follows is your simple stroll down cheesy slasher bodycounting mixed with obsessive stalker horror as Chucky do away more and more people (and animals) who it deem unfit to be Andy's friend or family, a complete contrast to our OG Chucky's modus wherein the voodoo practicing serial killing doll murders for the reason that he simply can. This makes Buddi Chucky more empathetic and sympathetic for his misguided and eventually hate-fueled attempts to become Andy's one and only companion, a fresh take that thankfully kept the destructive, maniacal and fun cheesy horror of watching a tiny killer toy in action after taking its time building up a surprisingly adorable and genuinely warm relationship between Andy and Chucky.

From what I can tell, Child's Play (2019) works greatly thanks to the committed performances of its strong cast. Mark Hamill steps in as the voice behind this movie's Chucky and his take on the guy is just wonderful, may it be voicing the doll's joyful and often misconceived innocence or spiteful jealousy and anger. Gabriel Bateman as this film's more angsty preteen Andy hits the cards right as a child hero bottled with insecure frustrations for all the bad turns in his life so far, struggling to resolve as many on his own to the best of his abilities. These two are on screen the most and their relationship as unlikely friends to sudden AI monster-and-hapless victim is the glue that kept this movie interesting, a fact that I'm sure that would have fair better if it also took the time to build around other characters including Andy's mother (played by Aubrey Plaza with a young parent spunk) and her douchey boyfriend Shane, a neighboring detective with a sassy yet adorable elderly mother and, probably the most unfairly under-explored set of characters that I wanted to see more of, Andy's new friends Fayln and Pugg. (Especially Pugg. Pugg is funny awesome!)

Looking further into it, the story is predictable at best, echoing the hammy B-grade horror and silly entertainment of late 80s and early 90s scifi slashers like Chopping Mall (1986) and Ghost In The Machine (1993), but that didn't hinder Child's Play (2019) from making the best out of its AI-gone-evil direction, Buddi Chucky's very "uncanny valley" animatronic design and movements (which do warrant some time and patience getting used to. Especially the weird E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) influence to his design) an obvious product of this techno-horror route. Little to no horror was actually seen around the early bits of the plot, only hinting the downside behind the science of artificial life only when necessary for that effective foreshadowing and cathartic curveball before kicking it into full bloody bodycounting mode for all things grisly for the second half, peppered with some humorous Hitchcockian bits.

And for whatever it's worth, Child's Play (2019)'s murder set are gory, bloody and darkly funny at times, with the film's supermarket carnage of a climax probably standing out as one of this franchise's more exciting scene, utilizing the Buddi doll's feature to control other electronic goods to slice and dice shopping patrons before jogging back to your classic mano-a-monster finale. It might not be groundbreaking, but the film melds its now-charming-next-terrifying character relations with tech horror and slasher grue prodigiously well, and its polished production value and overall watchable talents make this reboot all that witty, messy and warmly welcomed as this year's decent cinematic surprises.

So if you're a wee bit concerned, don't be: Child's Play (2019) is its own monster and a great one at that. Count it as a spiritual companion piece to the original Chucky franchise if you may and just enjoy our new best Buddi at his best. And worst.

1 male jumps to his death
1 cat found murdered
1 male had his scalp shredded off with a tiller, knifed to death
1 male bisected groin first through a table saw, leg cut off
1 female knifed on the chest
1 male knifed on the neck, throat further sliced through a drone's propeller
1 female seen slaughtered
1 male seen attacked by a toy bear
1 female seen attacked by a toy bear
1 male dragged away, killed by a toy bear
A number of patrons and employees possibly killed offcamera during supermarket massacre
Total: 10+

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