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‘Child’s Play’: Chucky inventively goes high-tech

Rizki Fachriansyah
Rizki Fachriansyah

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, July 8, 2019  /  11:09 am

Cinema’s favorite plastic delinquent Chucky returns with an internet-supported vengeance in a contemporary reimagining, set against the backdrop of a techno-industrial nightmare.

Gone are the paranormal underpinnings of Don Mancini’s original Child’s Play franchise, replaced with a science-fiction conceit whose obvious parallels to real-world tech paranoia recall the cautionary tales of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror.

Accordingly, Chucky’s proclivity for gruesome murders are no longer the result of a soul transfer from a criminal-cum-ocultist, but rather a software glitch in the doll’s artificial intelligence.

Helmed by burgeoning horror filmmaker Lars Klavberg, the 2019 retelling of the Child’s Play myths takes place in a mirror version of the present reality, where a monolithic tech giant called Kaslan Corporation has rooted itself firmly in the domestic lives of every American through its ubiquitous line of "smart" products that operates within a shared proprietary digital ecosystem. 

Among the company’s most popular products is Buddi, a children’s doll that comes with wireless internet support and machine learning algorithm, as well as a plethora of other digital bells and whistles. 

As is customary among American tech heavyweights, Kaslan Corp. outsources the production of Buddi dolls to third-party factories across several Asian countries. However, what was originally intended as a cost-effective mass-production strategy would soon turn into a PR nightmare. A disgruntled employee working at the Vietnam production plant sabotages a Buddi doll’s central processing unit, removing some of the smart toy’s most crucial safety protocols before killing himself. 

Unbeknownst to the company, the damaged Buddi doll still goes on to pass final quality assurance and be shipped to a toy store in the United States. A clerk working at the store, Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza), brought home the faulty doll for free and gave it to her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) as an early birthday present. Little do they know that the doll – which now calls itself Chucky – would turn psychotic and go on a killing spree, putting everyone they care about in danger. 

Although notorious for not being sanctioned by original franchise creator Don Mancini, Klavberg’s film maintains a high degree of fidelity to the first Child’s Play, released in 1988. The original screenplay’s basic framework remains relatively intact; after explaining the origins of the doll’s diabolical nature in its initial set-up, the film immediately focuses on the mother-and-son relationship between Karen and Andy Barclay. 

Also returning in one piece is the 1988 screenplay’s overt indictment of consumerism. Only this time, its anticonsumerist bent has been expanded to target the entire late-capitalist structure as it exists in the late 2010s.

I would not go so far as calling the remake’s critique of the techno-industrial complex authentic, but its broad portrayal of corporate America’s inherent evil is acidic enough to resonate emotionally as Big Tech continues to tighten its collective grip on seemingly every facet of modern society. 

Only the film’s opening sequence – which sees a depressed Kaslan factory worker in Vietnam commit suicide – registers as a genuinely pointed jab at the infamously terrible working conditions at Apple’s manufacturing plants in China. 

Screenwriters David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith, riding high on the success of 2017’s It that they also penned, effortlessly tap into the audience’s worries regarding the interconnected nature of everyday life under Silicon Valley hegemony. These sly nods, which include smartphone-to-doll synchronization, are not exactly novel, but they nonetheless serve as amusingly deadpan observations of life as we know it today. 

Unlike the core premise’s anticapitalist sensibilities, main characters Karen and Andy Barclay have been altered significantly to lend their relationship a sturdier dramatic anchor. Their dynamics are far more fraught, as Andy is now an introverted 13-year-old boy, while Karen is an outgoing, young single parent struggling to make ends meet. To my surprise, their new personalities make the 2019 Child’s Play a more engaging character piece than the original cult classic on which it is based. 

Read also: Get ready for a scare: Teaser trailer for ´It: Chapter 2´ is here

Bateman, in particular, turns in a fantastic performance as Andy that constantly alternates between quiet moodiness and raw emotions. It’s a tricky balancing act, but young Bateman has somehow pulled it off. He is definitely a talent to watch out for. 

Plaza, who plays Karen, also manages to add her signature spunky embellishments to an otherwise rigid role. Previously known for her quirky characters in typically twee indie dramas, Plaza operates outside of her wheelhouse, delivering a stellar interpretation of a classic character in the process.

Mark Hamill – who provides the voice of the murderous doll, replacing Brad Dourif in Mancini’s run – really outdoes himself as the next-gen version of Chucky. His post-Star Wars career as a remarkable voice actor just keeps getting better with age. 

Director Klavberg does not shy away from the original franchise’s customary bloodbath, as his version of Child’s Play is jam-packed with moments of pure terror and relentless gore that will certainly satiate slasher aficionados. Klavberg even goes the extra mile and infuses every suspenseful scene with a healthy dose of personality and irresistible inflections of dark humor that are entirely his own. 

This Child’s Play reboot may not be the freshest take on the material, but it’s still an entertaining alternate version that’s brimming with actual passion and sheer inventiveness. (kes)

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