Review: 'Child's Play' is a brilliant, humorous, gory parable on the dangers of technology

Marcus Goh
·Contributor
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Most horror movies are just that — an excuse for a crazed creature to hunt down hapless human victims in a Gothic and extremely dark setting. Sometimes, the plot even has to go out of its way to force characters to do inexplicably silly things, like go into dark places alone or abandon all semblance of common sense when investigating disturbances. It's rare that a horror movie actually has a theme and message that's infused into its very premise, but that's what Child's Play (2019) offers up. It's a horror movie with a sprinkling of humour that also serves as a cautionary tale about how interconnected we all are — and how the Internet of Things can be far more terrifying than we realise.

The 2019 version of Child's Play is a reimagining of the 1998 movie of the same name. It sees a single mother gifting her troubled son an interactive doll to help him cope. As the boy bonds with the doll, he slowly discovers that it has a murderous and malicious streak.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

The premise of Child's Play is such common knowledge (as is the name of the murderous doll, Chucky, voiced by Mark Hamill in this 2019 version) that a straight remake would lack any sort of tension and surprise. It's a horror movie, as the posters will show, and you know that a psychotic sentient doll is out to murder people. What this version of Child's Play does is to subvert those expectations by turning to another modern fear in our subconscious — the lingering fear of technology and how we might one day lose control of it. It's a brilliant message about how the hyper-connectivity of all our electronic devices may one day be our downfall, and how it just takes one rogue operator to cause unstoppable mayhem.

Of course, it also helps that a seasoned thespian provides the voice of Chucky. Besides his work as Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill is also famous for voicing the maniacal Joker on the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series, as well as many other onscreen Jokers since then. It's incredibly apparent in the final act of the film as he channels the insanity of the Joker into Chucky, who has gone completely off-the-rails at that point. His voice, which starts off mildly but forgivably creepy at the beginning, slowly but imperceptibly descends into a demonic voicing of the mad doll, dripping with undertones of hate, violence, and evil, which makes Chucky such a terror.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Aubrey Plaza is wonderful as single mother Karen Barclay, who's dealing with the repercussions of a sudden house moving and tight finances, all while taking care of her 10-year-old son Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Her very presence, what with that dead-eyed stare and monotone voice, adds a certain chill to the movie. Yet she delivers her comedic lines with aplomb, toeing the line between humour and horror as the film progresses. Plaza's take on Karen Barclay is extremely memorable and refreshing. Her on-screen son Andy is also a great mix of heroism, vulnerability and loneliness. Bateman manages to exhibit all these qualities believably, which help you to understand why Andy forms an actual emotional bond with Chucky, and the pain of betrayal when Chucky starts his downward spiral into a carnage of blood and gore.

And there is so much gore. While Child's Play is rather slow to start and seems relatively tame, so much so that you might be fooled into thinking this is a film suitable for children (warning: it's not), it splashes so much gore at you by the end that you'll be flinching at the appearance of any sharp object. It springs its cheerful violence on you midway through the film, using the discordant shift in tone for maximum effect. Not all the gore is terrifying in nature though — some of it is used for dark comedic effect, which is another ingenious aspect of the film.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

The writing is lightly dosed with quirky but excellent humour throughout. It's not a comedy, not by a long shot. But the script makes clever use of Plaza's talents, adding another dimension to the movie itself. It's clever and self-aware, but not so much as to be pretentious. There are also subtle pop culture references sprinkled throughout, with an acute awareness that its target audience is likely to catch and appreciate all of them.

However, Child's Play's budget is certainly constrained, and it shows in the movie. There's a B-movie quality to it, although there is an intentionality to the way the effects are portrayed, and there are some skilful cuts and deft camera directions to mask the fact that there it could have certainly made do with more funding. Nevertheless, it manages to make up for it in many other areas, especially in the quality of its performances and writing.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

2019's Child's Play is a surprise horror hit, offering much more than just simple scares. It's a movie made by fans, for fans, and it's bolstered by fantastic performances, oddly appropriate gore, and offbeat humour. Child's Play is a lovely update of a classic with modern sensibilities, and it manages to play on our fear of the unknown in more ways than one. By transforming itself into a modern day parable about the dangers of technology, it's transcended its original vision to become so much more.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this more than once? No.

Score: 3.9/5

Secret ending? There's an audio post-credits "scene".

Running time: 90 minutes

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Child's Play (2019) is a slasher horror movie that is a reimagining of Child's Play (1988).

The movie revolves around a hapless family who slowly discovers that their electronic, interactive doll is fully capable of — and willing — to kill. As the number of grisly murders around them increases, they must find a way to put a stop to the doll. Otherwise, it might very well destroy everything and everyone.

Child's Play is directed by Lars Klevberg and written by Tyler Burton Smith. It stars Aubrey Plaza (Karen Barclay), Gabriel Bateman (Andy Barclay), Mark Hamill (the voice of Chucky), Brian Tyree Henry (Mike Norris), Tim Matheson (Henry Kaslan), Beatrice Kitsos (Falyn), and Ty Consiglio (Pugg). It is rated M-18.

Child's Play opens in cinemas:
- 11 July, 2019 (Singapore)
- 25 July, 2019 (Malaysia)
- 20 June, 2019 (Philippines)

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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