The new ‘Child’s Play’ admirably forges its own path to mixed results

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The Chucky franchise is approached from a different angle entirely in Child’s Play, the new horror film for which the term “remake” hardly seems appropriate. It might have the same title and basic premise as the 1988 classic, but in virtually every way, this is a fundamentally different story. In this case, though, that’s not such a bad thing, even if the results aren’t always successful.

The 2019 edition of Child’s Play isn’t anything great, and the original is clearly the superior, scarier film. But while the new Chucky doesn’t exactly live up to his forebearer, it’s still refreshing to see a remake that aims for something brand new, especially given the unique circumstances surrounding this one.

Indeed, too often do horror remakes settle for serving up beat-for-beat recreations of every iconic sequence from their predecessor, adding up simply to less effective versions of movies we already know by heart. Child’s Play, while staying true to the original in spirit, goes completely in the opposite direction.

Chucky himself, for one, is absolutely nothing like the original character, and that starts with his backstory. Instead of being a doll possessed by a human serial killer, now, he’s an Alexa-style artificial intelligence robot that develops murderous tendencies thanks to a factory worker who messes with his safety protocols.

This new origin, unfortunately, creates a situation in which Chucky never does anything that he’s not programmed to be able to do, meaning we don’t get any spine-tingling sequences of watching a toy behave in a way that shouldn’t be possible. The original thrived on this; recall that horrifying moment in the 1988 version where Karen discovers Chucky is missing his batteries, and we shudder at the notion of holding a toy that we just realized has been functioning without any power source.

There’s nothing like that here, though. Seeing a piece of plastic darting across the room in the original was chilling, but even the normal version of Buddi can do that. So when Chucky goes berserk, he’s still ultimately nothing more than a machine with some altered settings. As he’s no longer operating outside of the normal realm of possibility, he isn’t as unnatural and is, therefore, less creepy.

But the other major change — to Chucky’s primary motivation — is more interesting. In this version, Chucky isn’t aiming to transfer his soul into a human body. Instead, he’s only trying to help Andy and be his friend, with all of the kills arising from his belief that it will make his owner happy.

In fact, we actually find ourselves kind of sympathizing with Chucky this time, especially since this version puts more effort into developing a relationship with Chucky as being something Andy really needs. Chucky was more frightening when he was purely fueled by hatred and when his end goal was to take over Andy’s body, but the new one is unnerving in a different sort of way, thanks in no small part to Mark Hamill’s spectacular performance.

Child’s Play is also full of inventive kills, none of which are like anything we’ve seen in the series before. Some of that comes from the film’s clever utilization of technology; Chucky can tap into smart devices of all sorts, leading to one gruesome murder involving a self-driving car that the original Chucky wouldn’t even be capable of pulling off. But even the less tech-savvy deaths are still straight up insane and quite memorable.

Of course, there’s another key reason differentiating this version from the original series was a smart choice. The new Child’s Play might be more bothersome if it was the only version of Chucky we were going to get in the modern era; we wouldn’t want Jason Voorhees to make his triumphant return to cinemas in a reboot where he’s suddenly a vampire. But that’s not the case since the main Chucky series is still being made. Creator Don Mancini continues to direct Child’s Play sequels that exist in the original continuity, the most recent of which came out in 2017 and was pretty darn good.

Some fans are frustrated with the existence of this remake for that reason, especially given that Mancini has been publicly opposed to it. Wouldn’t this just create confusion and steal the “real” series’ thunder? That might have been true if the new Child’s Play offered the same basic thing as Mancini’s franchise. But thankfully, it doesn’t. The two Chuckys are nothing alike, allowing each to offer something totally unique. Want the psychotic serial killer version? Check out the upcoming Chucky TV show on SyFy. Want the evil robot version? The 2019 Child’s Play is there for that. Hate the remake? Well, it’s not like the other Chucky is going anywhere.

So yes, Child’s Play isn’t as good as the original, with a villain that isn’t nearly as sinister. But when so many remakes of this kind offer nothing new at all, the sheer creativity at this one’s core still deserves some respect.

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