As soon as Child’s Play (2019) was announced, I experienced some serious cognitive dissonance. I love the existing franchise, so I wanted to believe that any more Chucky would be good Chucky. But at the same time, I despised the fact that this reboot was taking place concurrent to the still-beating heart of the original series.
I tried really, really hard to walk into the new movie with a clean slate. I even gave it some benefit of the doubt as I was actually warm to the idea of of Chucky relying upon artificial intelligence instead of voodoo. Not because the voodoo angle didn’t work, but because we are surrounded by ever-smarter technology. If it didn’t lend the film a little bit more realism, it would certainly lend it some believability. Most of us are much more likely to believe in AI gone wrong than voodoo soul transference.
But, alas…try as I might, Child’s Play just didn’t click with me.
Child’s Play definitely runs in some different directions than its predecessors. Not all of it is necessarily bad by that merit, but very little of it landed well in my opinion.
Spoilers lie ahead, so proceed at your own risk.
Does the A.I. Angle Work?
At the beginning of the movie, a disgruntled factory worker disables the safety protocols on a single processing chip for a new Buddi doll (before throwing himself from a tall building and landing on a car; a nod to Chucky’s first kill in the original series). Presumably the doll’s prime directives are left intact, and highest ranking among them is something along the lines of imprinting on his owner and playing with him or her and ensuring happiness.
When obstacles to fun and/or happiness present themselves in the movie, Chucky does what he can to remove them – all for Andy’s benefit (at least from his perspective). So he genuinely believes he’s doing the right or good thing.
This gives Chucky an air of innocence, naivety, and even benevolence that is definitely different, and I still don’t know how I feel about that. Is it more or less scary that he is perpetrating evil from a place of altruism as opposed to unbridled malevolence?
In the very least, the AI angle seems to leave open the possibility of reform (or possibly reformatting) to fix the problem, yeah? You didn’t have that chance with the OG Chucky. The latter feels much more frightening to me.
The new Chucky’s ability to interface with the connected technologies around him gives him a greater potential scale, but very few great horror movies featuring a one-against-many setup work well when the “many” moves beyond more than about half a dozen. Great for zombie flicks; less good for slashers. So the scene with the apartment building’s super is solid…but the massacre at the department store loses its way, in my opinion.
Chucky’s Learned Behavior
On top of the sort of “benevolent violence” theme discussed above, the movie plays with the nature versus nurture debate a bit:
Nature: His safety protocols are turned off (ie – he was “born” this way)
Nurture: He watches The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and puppets what he sees.
The Buddi doll is hyped as being an entity that is always learning. He is like a child out of the box; a tabula rasa ready to soak up the world around him and incorporate its information into his behavior. The problem is that the learning only seems to work one way with Chucky. He sees violence and then performs violence, but when he’s chastised for it he does not incorporate any of the correction.
I’m no programmer by any means, but I have a hard time believing that the absence of those safety protocols necessitates an inability to learn productive and normative behaviors given the presence of his capability to learn. Every time Andy said, “Don’t do that,” Chucky should have worked that much further away from violence according to the very rules that moved him towards violence. There are some inconsistencies here, for sure.
This angle also leaves the door open to making Chucky weirdly sympathetic; like, “It isn’t his fault, he’s just doing what he’s learned to do.” Or, to spin it as an accusation: “It isn’t his fault. The world made him this way.” Both provide an inroad for sympathy while also condemning some of the media and messages of the world.
Chucky aped what he saw was entertaining the children (again – in an attempt to bring happiness), and what he saw was violent. You’d have to work really hard not to conjure up the discussions about violence in video games et al and its supposed impact on kids. I don’t think it is handled well given its one-way portrayal, but it’s there nonetheless. There is also some commentary on the pursuit of happiness, I think, but I just don’t have the space in this post to explore it.
Child’s Play’s Greatest Flaw
The most significant fatality in this movie is the character of Chucky himself as a result of the AI angle. It totally robs him of any personality, and because he is completely autonomous right out of the box, seeing him move about and interact with the world around him loses its fear factor.
In all of his other films, even the weaker ones, when Chucky was onscreen he felt like an evil force of nature. He killed indiscriminately, opportunistically, and oftentimes simply for the pleasure of a kill. He couldn’t be stopped by removing his batteries like this new-fangled Chucky, for instance. The very thing that gives this incarnation a bit more believability (AI vs voodoo) also causes Chucky to feel conquerable; controllable.
New Chucky is creepy more than scary. He’d have to break bad along the lines of Skynet to shake that up, and he sorta starts to lean that way at the very end of the film – concluding that if he (Chucky) couldn’t be Andy’s best friend then no one could. So everyone else must die! But again: That scale is too big for the one-versus-many format in my opinion.
In order for the sequel (if there is one) to do better, the writers need to work on keeping the scale small despite the technology allowing for the opposite, and they need to move past the innocence angle.
Make him disillusioned after the events of this movie. Have him rewrite his programming somehow. I dislike that approach generally, but do what you have to to move beyond the confines of what’s on that chip when he was manufactured. Chalk it up to the lack of those deleted protocols; ie those protocols usually prevent such things. Let them serve as a sort of macguffin. Make him scary, man!
Bottom line is I really dislike the fact that I can see Sid’s toys from Toy Story totally dismantling this incarnation of Chucky. And that just shouldn’t be. Child’s Play (2019) isn’t without its merits, but I don’t think it stuck the landing, either. I give it 5.5/10.
Artist credit: Jason Messina (@surethingchief)