11:35am PT by Richard Newby
How the New 'Child's Play' Taps Into 'Black Mirror'-Like Technophobia
Chucky’s back and he wants to play. This morning the trailer for Orion's Child's Play, a reboot of the 1988 film, was released, giving us our first real glimpse at the infamous killer doll in action.
Since its announcement, the Lars Klevberg-directed film has earned its share of controversy with fans of the series and franchise creator Don Mancini expressing their displeasure with rebooting a narrative that is still ongoing with direct-to-video sequels and an upcoming TV series on Syfy. Child's Play without Mancini or the talents of longtime Chucky voice actor Brad Dourif, is a tough sell for many horror fans. But there's no denying the appeal of '80s horror reboots, and few characters have penetrated pop culture in quite the same way as Chucky the killer doll. With Mark Hamill voicing Chucky and the film taking a technological slant, Orion might have found a way to distinguish itself from the original film and tap into a new layer of terror. But how many changes are acceptable until Child's Play no longer feels like a Chucky movie?
This morning's trailer highlighted a number of familiar aspects shared with the original film. The pieces are all there: Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) receives a doll, Chucky, for his birthday from his single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza). Their lives take a turn into the realm of nightmares when the doll begins acting on its own impulses, committing acts of murder that force Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry) to intervene. Andy is older in this film than the original's depiction, but the plot set-up and central characters appear to be largely the same, except for one major change. The original Chucky was an ordinary doll possessed by the spirit of serial killer, Charles Lee Ray (Dourif). But this new version is a robotic doll made to interface with smart technology. He's a pint-sized Terminator with the ability to hack thermostats, vehicles and products made by the mysterious Kaslan corporation. While we only see a few brief glimpses of Chucky's attacks in the trailer, he's certainly got a lot more range than a knife, though we expect the results to be just as bloody. But in terms of delivering scares, the latest Chucky may be lacking in that department.
Tom Holland's 1988 film tapped into the supernatural and took advantage of our notions of childhood innocence. This latest interpretation utilizes our contemporary technophobia and seems to admonish the ease in which we've allowed smart devices to control our lives. Klevberg's film looks to be Black Mirror-inspired, and while that is no doubt an interesting take, it does seem less chill-inducing than the concept of a psychopathic adult male trapped inside a child's plaything. There's a knowable quality to technology that never exists in the realm of the supernatural. This version of Child's Play, by way of its tech focus, seems to be more steeped in the world of general adult concerns, rather than those specific to a child or a parent. A significant amount of the Child's Play and subsequent Chucky franchise over the years has focused on the voodoo mysticism of Charles Lee Ray and his struggle to regain a human body. This has allowed the franchise to evolve into off-kilter, dark horror-comedy, or the term horror director Mick Garris coined, "red humor." Assuming that this robotic Chucky isn't in search of a human body, we can't help but wonder if the film will be limited by the lack of a human element within its movie monster.
From the trailer, Child’s Play looks like an attempt to ape the original in terms of both concept and scope. It's traded in animatronics for CGI, created a more complicated scenario and expanded its cast of characters. None of these choices are necessarily wrong, but it's hard to escape the sense that this reboot feels like something other than a Child's Play film. This may be just the thing that makes skeptical audiences curious enough to open the toy box once more and see what Chucky has in store for them.