Countdown to Halloween Part 2 – New is Not Always Better
Child’s Play | Directed by Lars Klevberg | 2019 | Horror | 16+ | 1 H 30 M
By Jocelyn Illing
Living in the current age of sequels, reboots and remakes, it has become evident that new is not always better. Many filmmakers are not able to capture the essence and magic of an original, the thing that made the movie successful in the first place. To be clear, I am not referring to the elements of movies that made them great cinematic pieces of art, for a film does not have to be, for lack of a better phrase, “made well”, in order for it to be successful. Some films are just so bad or campy that they capture the hearts of audiences. Lev Klevberg’s 2019 reboot of the Child’s Play franchise is an example of such a failure. The turn to digital, while providing some important commentary on our increasingly digital worlds, removed the camp-factor and took itself too seriously.
Klevberg’s film begins in a modern-day Vietnam factory where workers are tirelessly building the hottest new toy, the Buddi doll, under poor work conditions. A disgruntled employee manipulates the doll he had been working on, disabling its safety functions before placing it in line with the rest of the dolls to be packaged and shipped. We then cut to Chicago, where a customer at the local supermarket is returning a Buddi doll, claiming that it isn’t functioning the way it is supposed to. Tired single mom and supermarket attendant Karen (Aubrey Plaza) decides to take the defected toy home and give it to her teenage son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) as an early birthday gift. Although Andy rejects the gift at first, claiming it to be a toy for little kids, he soon forms a bond with the robot doll. However, Andy soon witnesses the power of the toy’s artificial intelligences and the murderous length it will take to protect his “best buddi”.
This is what didn’t work in the film. For starters, the design of the Buddi doll, when compared to the Chucky doll from the original series, was not that creepy. Due to its robotic form, the Buddi doll could not make the same facial expressions as the original possessed doll. Although it would move its mouth mechanically, it could never achieve a look as sinister as Chucky’s, a fact mentioned in the movie when Andy wants to use Buddi to scare his mom’s boyfriend. This new origin story of the Buddi doll also prevents it from being as terrifying as Chucky as its agency is the direct product of his programming. There is a bit of creative licence between turning off safety mode and murdering people, but the magic just isn’t there. As the entire plot revolves around the Buddi doll, the movie falls rather flat.
Another fault of the movie was the casting of Plaza. Plaza is known for playing sarcastic and irresponsible characters that are still extremely likeable, for they make the audience laugh. Unfortunately, her knack for sarcasm does not benefit her when playing Karen. I just felt that Plaza was not believable as a mother. Throughout the film she seemed to stay on a neutral level that is characteristic of her previous rolls. Even when her son was in danger, Karen didn’t really show any strong emotions. Although this might be the product of artistic licence, it did lead to the character being very unlikable.
However, there are a few things that the film did get right. For starters, the casting of Mark Hamill as the voice of the Buddi doll was excellent. Hamill has made a respectable career post-Star Wars as a voice actor due to, in my opinion, is ability to channel those creepy voices inside of your head that sometimes wake you up at night. I was also impressed by Bateman’s performance as the sweet, loner kid Andy.
The most interesting component of the film is perhaps its overarching themes of the dangers of capitalism and technology. The story is set up as a revenge plot against corporations who exploit their workers. We further see the effects of consumerism as people become transfixed by the Buddi doll, its popularity prompting the store to host a launch party for the doll’s second edition. As we watch the film we also begin to see how technology shapes the lives of all of the characters. Not only is Buddi an electronic toy, but also a product of smart technology with the ability to connect to and control all other Kaslan Corporation products. Throughout the film we begin to see the power that Buddi has in controlling different aspects of our lives.
In the end, although this reboot worked to showcase some of the flaws in our current consumerist, technological society, it wasn’t scary and lost the magical campy feeling of the original. It is just another film about Artificial Intelligence gone wrong.