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Monday 30 November 2020
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‘Child’s Play’ review

Child’s Play (2019)

Director: Lars Klevberg

Performers: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, and Gabriel Bateman

While most horror movies are busy finding excuses to avoid modern technology, Child’s Play (2019) runs with it, gleefully exploring the possibilities. It’s the update I didn’t know we needed, and I’m grateful for all the effort put forth here. Child’s Play is a long-standing series that most horror fans recall fondly. Chucky himself is a classic movie monster, made even more likeable with his bride in later films. This means fans were dubious about yet another reboot of a beloved horror icon. I take back my complaints, though – this is gold.

The film delivers on everything the original Child’s Play was about and more: there’s murder, mayhem, and dark humor, but also some sharp critique of consumerism. Definitely worth watching. 

Warning: spoilers ahead!

The film opens with a commercial for Buddi, an A.I. doll. It’s primary feature, besides imprinting on a human child and becoming a lifelong friend, is that Buddi connects to a smart home through the Kaslan Corporation’s many smart devices. Buddi is presented here as optimistic, the vision of a bright future where no child must grow up alone. Cut to the factory in Vietnam where the dolls are mass produced. An employee is humiliated, screamed at in the workplace. His final act of defiance, after being fired and told he’s heading back to being homeless on the streets, he turns off all the safety measures on the doll’s programming. Then, after packaging this corrupted Buddi doll himself, he climbs to the roof and jumps to his death. This sets the tone for the entire film: blind consumerism on one hand, and the very human toll capitalism takes on the humans trapped within its cycle. 

Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) is introduced next, working in a Kmart equivalent (Zedd Mart?) and being cussed out by a customer eager for the next gen Buddi’s release. Karen, a single mom struggling to pay the bills and afford a new hearing aid for her son’s upcoming birthday, is a woman trapped in the corporate machine, living the hell of customer service in a consumer-driven society. This impacts her self-worth, and Plaza’s acting is fantastic here as a woman frustrated with her situation but savvy enough to still mostly get what she wants. Andy, her son (Gabriel Bateman), would rather have a new phone, rightly stating that it’s his only means of education and connectivity in the house – just like most students from low-income families these days. This is when Karen gets creative, and underhandedly convinces a sales associate to let her take the next returned Buddi 1.0 home instead of sending it back to the factory where it will inevitably join a landfill in the wake of the next gen Buddi’s release. This Buddi has some malfunctions – his eyes glow red sometimes and he stutters or mishears phrases, naming himself Chucky instead of following Andy’s naming suggestion. And so, Chucky (Mark Hamill) begins the process of learning from humans, and eventually, learning violence. Mark Hamill said in interviews that he took the part because of the script, and I can see why. Chucky is more sympathetic here than in the original films, but still very much a villain. As an advanced artificial intelligence with no limitations, he is still expected to perform tricks and serve his human masters. He’s frequently treated as an object instead of an intelligence – he’s restrained, used as a tool, belittled, demeaned, and chastised without explanation. It’s quite honestly a Pinocchio story gone horribly wrong. While the threat of an A.I. uprising is addressed, Chucky is only a threat after violence is modeled for him. He isn’t told why violence is bad, only that it is because humans say so. In the end, his programming puts his human, Andy, before anyone else. This means he attacks anyone who hurts Andy or comes between them. Hamill stated in interviews that it reminded him of a Greek tragedy, and the film fully encompasses that. It’s a fascinating take on a beloved horror icon, and I’m so here for it.

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