“Happiness is about more than being entertained,” Henry Kaslan, founder and CEO of the Kaslan Corporation, in the launch video for the second wave of their Buddi dolls. “It’s about being known, understood,” he claims, yet in a high-tech sweatshop in Vietman his down-the-line employees feel differently about is claims of empathy, one of them deliberately sabotaging the control circuit of a particular Buddi unit by disabling the safety protocols before jumping from the roof to his death.
A world away, single mom Karen Barclay and her thirteen-year old son Andy have just moved into a new apartment in Chicago, trying to make ends meet with what she makes in her customer service job at retail outlet Zedmart. With his birthday only two weeks away and the early Buddi models about to be rendered obsolete, when a customer returns a defective unit Karen decides to give Andy an early gift to try to make up for the home time she is missing.
Initially unimpressed, the quirks in its operating system all too apparent, Andy and his friends soon come to enjoy the non-standard behaviour of the rogue Buddi whose devotion to his imprinted best friend would in a human be considered obsessive, moving beyond support and encouragement to Andy to threats and violence against anyone who crosses him or comes between them.
Inspired by the 1988 film of the same name directed by Tom Holland and written by Don Mancini, this new version of Child’s Play is the feature debut of director Lars Klevberg from a script by Tyler Burton Smith, updating the “Good Guy” doll of the original, possessed via voodoo, to the fully autonomous and interconnected Buddi device voiced by The Last Jedi‘s Mark Hamill, a product of deliberate sabotage of a specific individual.
The role of the mother in the original played by the wholesome Catherine Hicks, Karen is given a cynical makeover by The Little Hours‘ Aubrey Plaza, blackmailing colleagues and willing to put up with her married boyfriend’s borderline abuse of Andy (Lights Out‘s Gabriel Bateman) if it will get her a little peace and quiet, the film is played as experienced by the children rather than told from the viewpoint of a parent as they question whether their child could be responsible for the inevitable killings.
Karen almost using the Buddi to make up for her own absence and preoccupation elsewhere, the unit watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 alongside Andy and his underage friends and absorbing how they react with laughter to the violence, that Andy’s bedroom wall has posters from Poltergeist III and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, released a generation before he was born, says more about the intended audience than the character.
Klevberg could have taken many approaches with Child’s Play, considering the replacement of real interaction with virtual, the unconscious dependency on creeping technology which has infiltrated every part of the home uninvited, the built-in redundancy of gadgets whose replacement keeps empires afloat on the backs of minimum wage workforces, or most obviously that the adaptive programming is responding to the behaviour it is witnessing first hand, that the Buddi is a product of its environment rather than malicious hacking, but any hints of satire or intelligent comment are abandoned in favour of a shopping mall massacre.
Crucially, as ugly as a Cabbage Patch Doll yet inexplicably an object of consumer desire, the new Chucky itself is represented both physically and digitally, the latter clearly a post-production addition of obviously artificial textures and movement, an object lesson in why Joe Dante, the veteran of Gremlins and Small Soldiers, insists that should he ever consider a second sequel to the former it will be entirely practical crafted.
Child’s Play is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download