Child's Play (2019)

Lars Klevberg

Gabriel Bateman - Andy Barclay
Mark Hamill - Voice of Chucky
Aubrey Plaza - Karen Barclay
Brian Tyree Henry - Detective Mike Norris
Tim Matheson - Henry Kaslan
David Lewis - Shane
Carlease Burke - Doreen Norris
Marlon Kazadi - Omar Norris
Beatrice Kitsos - Falyn
Ty Consiglio - Pugg

Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 90 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB)
A mother (Aubrey Plaza) gives her 13-year-old son (Gabriel Bateman) a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

Back in 1989, I watched 1988’s CHILD’S PLAY in theaters in a double-feature with NO HOLDS BARRED. While I was probably more of a wrestling fan than a horror fan at that point in my life, the origin of serial killer Charles Lee Ray sending his soul into a Good Guy doll named Chucky left more of an impression on me. CHILD’S PLAY gave me the creeps as a child, especially since I owned a Teddy Ruxpin doll and was terrified it would turn evil on me. CHILD’S PLAY was a pretty big hit at the time, making Chucky a horror icon alongside Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. Ever since, we were blessed [or cursed, depending on who you are] with six sequels that varied from stereotypical slashers to straight up dark comedies that either invited or turned off fans along the way. The series had lost its way for a while until the recent direct-to-blu-ray releases [CURSE and CULT] brought the film back to its horror roots and opened up a new mythology that an upcoming SyFy television series plans on continuing with much excitement. Don Mancini’s creation has been going strong for over 30 years with no end in sight.

Which made it surprising when MGM announced a remake of CHILD’S PLAY - a remake that Don Mancini had no part of or no say into what it’ll involve. The idea started becoming dour when it was revealed that Chucky would be an evil AI rather than a doll possessed by the soul of a killer, making many wonder what the point of all of this was besides a cash grab. Even an interesting cast and a couple of trailers didn’t really boost my interest in this reboot of sorts. It was only when Mark Hamill was announced as the voice of the new Chucky that I started to get curious about the project, especially when Hamill is one of the best voice actors of any generation. Even though none of my friends or family wanted to go see it, I decided to go to the theater to see the new version of CHILD’S PLAY like I had 30 years ago. I went in with low expectations, yet with an open mind since I knew this wouldn’t be the Chucky I’m familiar with. And surprisingly, I had a lot of fun with the new CHILD’S PLAY. It’s not perfect and nowhere as good as the original film, but there’s a lot to appreciate here if you’re willing to give it a chance.

I think what I liked the most about 2019’s CHILD’S PLAY is the unexpected substance the story actually presents. Since there is no longer a possession storyline going on in this version, the producers had to come up with a modern twist as to why Chucky is evil. While making the doll a faulty AI that learns to be violent is not a novel idea at all, at least it’s used to create somewhat a social commentary on our reliance on technology. No longer a Good Guy doll, the Buddi doll is pretty much the film’s version of Amazon’s Alexa product - a device used to turn other devices on, play music or movies, order food or products, and other activities that have really made our society a bit lazy and too easy to make things happen and get them done. While this is convenient technology, it could also come with negative effects - such as reports that Alexa actually records things and relays them to the government as some sort of spy. While it’s unclear that Chucky is doing this, the fact that he’s not technically where he should be as a device makes him an unseen danger to those around him. Technology always advances and believe me, I’m grateful that certain aspects of my life are made easier just by voice recognition or a click of a button. But with the good, there’s always the bad. Chucky is an embodiment of this, doing bad things because he doesn’t understand morality. And why should he since he’s just an AI? 

There are other moments in the film that also add to the commentary. A focus of the film’s final act, a new version of the Buddi doll [the Buddi II] receives a huge presentation at the local big chain store like any new video game, sneakers, or even smartphone would. It’s a version that fixes the flaws of the original, even coming in different skins like animals and different ethnicities. This is obviously a “first world problem” that a lot of us fall into, wanting that new piece of technology because it’s faster, more reliable and even stronger than the previous edition. The film doesn’t really do much with it by the end of the film, but at least it brings it up and showcases our view on technology in general. We evolve as soon as it evolves. Another moment involves the film’s Uber system that picks up riders in a remote-control car that doesn’t require a driver, taking people across town via GPS through an app. The media has debated back-and-forth whether this type of smart car is a safety concern, which CHILD’S PLAY definitely showcases the negative aspect of it, leading to deadly results. For a remake that could have just capitalized on what was done before for some quick cash, CHILD’S PLAY 2019 tries to be more intelligent in what it wants to say. I appreciated that and was a very good approach to separate it from the original film to be its own thing.

I also thought the new Chucky character was handled well. I liked that we were told Chucky was faulty from the start, due to some disgruntled worker in Vietnam who wanted to do damage to his employer. This guy took off all the safety and security protocols, giving an easy reason why Chucky becomes what he would become. I also bought that he was treated as an afterthought by Andy, who felt he was too old for a doll, slowly endearing himself with Chucky because of his fierce loyalty to him. And that’s one of the biggest differences between this film and the original. In the 1988 version, Chucky used Andy in order to trust him enough to steal his body by transporting his soul into it. In the new version, Chucky is actually extremely fond of Andy and wants to be his bestest friend - to the point that Chucky wants no one else taking his spot in Andy’s life. Chucky, also, doesn’t start as a killer but learns from things he sees, especially taking notes from a quick viewing of 1986’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 which leads to a cool death sequence later on in the film. I’m guessing that’s a take on the whole UK controversy of the early-1990s, where there were a couple of murders blamed on the original CHILD’S PLAY series. The 2019 version is a FATAL ATTRACTION tale that I kind of dug, giving this iteration of Chucky a different path he can travel if they decide to make sequels in this continuity. 

I will say that Chucky’s new design wasn’t great though. I got used to it as the film went on, but it looked pretty funky to me - and not in a good way. I’m glad they didn’t totally copy the original design, but that’s the best they could come up with? I’m surprised anyone would want a doll that looks like this version in their home. At least the original design had an attractive appeal, like those Cabbage Patch Kids from back in the day.

The other characters aren’t as interesting as Chucky, unfortunately, but some are definitely better than others. I liked Andy Barclay, as he is less naive and more action-oriented than the original version. He’s over the whole toy phase, more interested in playing on his smartphone. But he grows to like Chucky since the toy is the only person who doesn’t judge him. When Andy does befriend some neighborhood kids, Chucky starts feeling neglected, which leads to some violent moments. He also has a strange dynamic with his mother, where they act more like siblings than mother and son. I wish there was more of that in the film. I also wish there was use of Andy’s hearing disability [he has a hearing aid]. The only times it would come to play is when Chucky would create static that would disrupt the aid. Other than that, nothing comes of it besides being a plot device to justify why Andy feels like an outcast. A part of me wishes that the character was a bit younger like in the original to create a bit of tension within his friendship with Chucky. But I didn’t mind the change all that much. I also liked the new version of Mike Norris, the film’s resident detective. Instead of being a hard ass, this version of Mike is a likable and funny guy who visits his mother [who happens to be Andy’s neighbor] and sort of plays surrogate dad to Andy whenever Andy’s mom had to work the late shift. The moments where the two interact as friends are some of the best moments in the film, but there aren’t enough of them unfortunately. Still, I liked the different dynamic between Andy’s relationship with the Norris family when compared to the relationship with his own family. 

Speaking of that, I felt that Karen Barclay was a wasted character for the most part. It’s one of those situations where I can’t help but compare the reboot with the original. The original Karen was a pro-active, strong and caring mother who tried to save Andy from the evil of Chucky, once she found out about the doll. She had a lot of depth and enough personality for the audience to sympathize and care about her. In the new version, she’s a troubled single mom who seems more into making her boyfriend happy than giving her handicapped son any sort of attention. In fact, I never felt a mother and son vibe between her and Andy, but more of a sibling one. It was kind of sad and maybe that was the point. But I didn’t really care about this version of the character. I also thought Karen’s boyfriend, Steve, was your stereotypical asshole who just used Karen for sex and treated Andy like he was an obstacle in his happiness. I did like the twist with the character, which only makes you hate him more, but not much depth besides that. And while Andy’s neighborhood friends had cool moments and added things throughout the film, they were never really given enough development for us to know them really. It was as if CHILD’S PLAY wanted to do what a lot of other horror films involving children and teenagers feel compelled to do - borrow from Netflix’s Stranger Things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels forced. And it felt forced here because it never felt earned. Like one moment, one of Andy’s bullies treats him like crap and then they’re best friends in the next scene. I don’t mind Andy having a squad to take down an evil AI doll, but give it some justification.

The direction by Lars Klevberg was mostly positive. The film looked great and I thought Klevberg really showcased the death sequences really well. In particular, I loved the scene involving a lawn mower and Christmas lights that was bloody fun [pun intended]. There’s also that scene with the Uber car that I mentioned previously, plus drones attacking and dolls going apeshit on people in a store. When CHILD’S PLAY is out for blood, it doesn’t mess around and uses the R rating well. In most of these scenes too, Klevberg provides some nice atmosphere and suspense, which I honestly wasn’t expecting. It was nice to have a sick feeling of excitement when you realized some bad stuff was going to go down because of Chucky.

I also felt that Klevberg directed the first half better than the second. The first half was more about the set up and focusing on the blossoming relationship with Andy and the people around him, especially Chucky. When they’re playing board games, watching television, or trying to scare neighbors for fun, it’s an enjoyable watch. It also helps separate the reboot from the original, making us forget about what we’ve been familiar with for decades. The second half’s strong suit are the deaths. But it loses its way besides that. The film starts to feel rushed, with some editing that felt really choppy. It was as if the studio only wanted a 90 minute film, so the director and editor had to cut a ton of stuff to make the important elements fit within the run time. I usually don’t want long films, but here’s an example where I wish maybe we had gotten fifteen more minutes to tell a fuller story. I would have been okay with that. Visually, Klevberg did a nice job overall.

The acting in CHILD’S PLAY was fine. Mark Hamill, obviously, steals the show as the voice of Chucky. I still think Brad Dourif shouldn’t have been replaced [thankfully he’s voicing the television series], but Hamill did give Chucky a lot of life. I like how innocent he sounds until he gets angry, cackling and acting deranged once the full violence demeanor kicks in. There was a bit of Joker in there at times, plus the laugh resembled Dourif’s, which was a nice touch of respect. Hamill was probably the best replacement you were going to get for the character and he did a great job. I also liked Gabriel Bateman as Andy. I thought he had nice rapport with the rest of the cast and really brought something authentic and genuine to a role that could have been really annoying and unsympathetic. He made Andy feel like a real teenager dealing with angst, just wanting someone to try and understand him without judgment. I also liked how Bateman played against Chucky, giving the character a nice foil. Aubrey Plaza is great, but she doesn’t get a whole lot to do as Karen. She does have her quirky moments that are funny at times, but I wish she had more things to do in the film. Brian Tyree Henry was great as Mike Norris. He has nice comedic timing, but can also bring the seriousness too. It was a total 180 degrees from Chris Sarandon’s take on the character and I appreciated it. The actors who played the children were good in their archetypical roles. I liked the cast, even though some of them got short-changed in the script.

Probably the movie surprise of 2019 so far, the reboot of CHILD’S PLAY is actually pretty darn good. The first half of the film is really strong, while the more flawed second half has cool moments of gore and kill sequences. The direction was very good for the most part, even though it rushes through its final act and plays it a bit too safe, in my opinion. The acting, especially by Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman and Brian Tyree Henry, is solid. CHILD’S PLAY does what a good remake should do - maintain elements of the original concept and update it for a newer generation by being its own thing. I wasn’t expecting much of out of this film, but it provided some clever and witty commentary about our over reliance on technology that created some memorable and entertaining moments. Go into this one with an open mind and don’t try to compare it too much to the original. On its own, it’s a solid reinvention of a beloved character that ought to be appreciated for what it does right.

3 Howls Outta 4


Brightburn (2019)

David Yarovesky

Elizabeth Banks - Tori Breyer
David Denman - Kyle Breyer
Jackson A. Dunn - Brandon Breyer/ Brightburn
Gregory Alan Williams - Sheriff Deever
Becky Wahlstrom - Erica
Emmie Hunter - Caitlyn
Matt Jones - Noah McNichol
Meredith Hagner - Merilee McNichol

Genre - Horror/Drama/Fantasy/Aliens/Superheroes

Running Time - 90 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB)
What if a child from another world (Jackson A. Dunn) crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

If you can sum up the plot of the James Gunn produced BRIGHTBURN, it would be “What if Superman had turned evil instead of standing for truth, justice and the American way?” It’s not a foreign concept, as comic books and recent video games [such as the Injustice series] have used the angle of having one of the most popular and powerful superheroes take a ride on the dark side. BRIGHTBURN plays out like a DC Comics “Elseworlds” scenario, in which a Superman-like character would eventually come from an alien planet destined to rule it by any means necessary, no matter the good nurturing he received from human parents during his childhood. I’m surprised not many films have tried to visually execute a story like this, but maybe BRIGHTBURN proves it’s for good reason. While the film does a lot of things well, it unfortunately flounders on its most important asset - its story.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The horror aspect of BRIGHTBURN is done very well. This isn’t surprising since the film was produced by James Gunn, who comes from a horror world via Troma and later on with films like SLITHER and some aspects of 2010’s SUPER. The film gives us a nightmarish vision of what Superman would be like if he just used his powers to cause destruction. And the film never shies away from that, as we see some pretty gory stuff that you wouldn’t see in most superhero films. We get a cringe-worthy moment where glass impales someone’s eye, heat vision burning off a face at point-blank range, letting people fall to their deaths from out the sky, and so on. It carries its R rating well, especially when these scenes are directed with some nice tension and suspense to build up to these horrific scenes. If BRIGHTBURN was trying to be the anti-superhero film, the horror aspect sure helps in achieving that.

I also enjoyed the acting in BRIGHTBURN as well. Both Elizabeth Banks and David Denman are pretty good as the wannabe Kent parents, Tori and Kyle Breyer. Banks, especially, really plays on the emotions of a mother who doesn’t want to believe the miracle baby she found and raised turns out to be a homicidal maniac with superpowers. That’s not to say that Denman is any less good as the father who is quick to wash his hands of his son’s malicious nature. Their dynamic with each other feels very realistic and I thought they grounded the story. The star of the film is Brandon/Brightburn himself, Jackson A. Dunn. Dunn looks like an innocent child, but plays an evil one very well. I thought he portrayed his confusion as to who he was convincingly, slowly making it easy to believe his sociopathic tendencies when he did terrible things. I thought he was very unnerving whenever he had interactions with his crush, played well by Emmie Hunter. He came across very creepy in those scenes. I wish the script gave him more depth at times, but Dunn well-handled whatever the script gave him to do. All around, I think the acting was good.

I also didn’t dislike the direction by David Yarovesky. A fave collaborator of the Gunn family, Yarovesky manages a nice balance of the dramatic aspects of BRIGHTBURN with the horror sensibilities during the second half. The film flows really well and the picture looks nice. And the special effects are nicely handled as well, making BRIGHTBURN feel like it fits within the superhero genre. Not sure what Yarovesky has directed previously, but I could see him doing more work in the genre since BRIGHTBURN is a visually pleasing film that showcases his potential for the future.

And while the concept of BRIGHTBURN is great on paper, I wish it had been better executed on screen. The characters are fine. The film does exactly what you’d expect from it, besides an ending that some people may not expect. All the beats to a story like this exist in BRIGHTBURN. But the film never does more than that, playing things safe without trying to expand on the basic idea to give BRIGHTBURN a reason to exist. Is this film a commentary on the over saturation of superhero films? Is it a film on how bullying effects young people? Is it about toxic masculinity? Is there something more to BRIGHTBURN besides being just an evil kid film?

My main issue with BRIGHTBURN is the lack of struggle between good and evil for young Brandon. Prior to his spaceship telling him his destiny once he becomes a teenager, Brandon seemed like a good kid who was going to follow the same steps that Clark Kent had in DC. But once he finds out he’s powerful and not from Earth, Brandon decides that getting what he wants is more important, even if he has to hurt and/or kill others to make that happen. This is fine and all, but where’s the internal conflict? Where’s the character study that debates nature versus nurture? Brandon is just evil because… he just is? Where’s the story then? The screenplay just feels empty without nothing meaningful to say. Brandon gets bullied in school and that could have given the journey some depth if it went anywhere. And his social awkwardness makes his crush scared of him. But that tends to just fade away as well by the final act. There are a lot of aspects that could have given some meat to the story’s bones, but the film would rather focus on a evil kid killing people in superpowered ways than give us something to think about in terms of an interesting story arc. It’s a shame because this had the potential to be more. Luckily, BRIGHTBURN has a cast who cares and tries to make the most of what they’re given. But you’re just left feeling like there’s something missing by the end of it.


BRIGHTBURN was one of the films I was most excited about during the 2019 Summer Movie season. The film has good horror moments, with some cringe-worthy gore at times. The acting is solid all around, especially by Elizabeth Banks and Jackson A. Dunn. And the direction is well done, with a nice pace and cool special effects handled well. And while this “Evil Superman” story contains all the beats and tropes needed to tell the story efficiently on a superficial level, there’s nothing really underneath to give BRIGHTBURN any depth. It’s a shame because it could have been an interesting commentary on the superhero genre, or just a neat character study on an alien being who struggles with his destiny versus the morals he was entrusted with from his parents. The film doesn’t burn as bright as it should have, but it’s worth at least a watch if an “Elseworlds” or “What If?” type of Superman story interests you.

2.5 Howls Outta 4


Morgan (2016)

Luke Scott

Kate Mara - Lee Weathers
Anya Taylor-Joy - Morgan
Toby Jones - Dr. Simon Ziegler
Rose Leslie - Dr. Amy Menser
Boyd Holbrook - Skip Vronsky
Michelle Yeoh - Dr. Lui Cheng
Jennifer Jason Leigh - Dr. Kathy Grieff
Paul Giamatti - Dr. Alan Shapiro
Brian Cox - Jim Bryce

Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Action

Running Time - 92 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB)
Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is a “risk-management specialist” for genetic-engineering company SynSect. She arrives at the rural site hosting its L-9 project, an artificial being with nanotechnology-infused synthetic DNA named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). The “hybrid biological organism with the capacity for autonomous decision making and sophisticated emotional responses” is smarter than humans and matures quickly, walking and talking within a month and physically a teenager despite being five years old. Due to her latest violent impulses, Weathers must decide whether to terminate Morgan, but Morgan may have a deadly opinion on the matter.

As it’s funny now that I’m motivated to review things again here on this blog, my slow return has been me discussing films that are pretty sub-par or average that honestly should have been a lot better than what was executed. Another film that falls under this category is 2016’s MORGAN, a film that pretty much came and went during its theatrical run, not making much of an impression on anyone despite its mega-talented cast and a son of a very famous director behind the lens. What begins as an interesting sci-fi drama and character study dissolves into a predictably bland horror film that’s pretty forgettable once its all said and done. It wants to be two films at once, but never managing to execute one the way it should have.

MORGAN is just another in a line of films that tackles the idea of Artificial Intelligence and the concept of “how much God should man play” when it comes to science. The first half of the film is concerned with the L-9 Project, or Morgan, who grew up as a synthetic being through the splicing of DNA to study her human behavioral patterns. Technically only five years old, she has a great level of intelligence but isn’t exactly sure how to react to what she learns emotionally. At first, she behaved like a regular child - enjoying playing outside and laughing with the scientists who she saw as her friends and family. But as she learned more and grew up, her lack of conscience or soul has made her do terrible things - to the point where she has to be locked in a glass cell. When she’s threatened that she will never go back outside, she injures her friends because she doesn’t know how else to react. We’ve seen this kind of story told in other AI films, such as BLADE RUNNER or even EX MACHINA, where machines can look and act like human beings, but don’t have the moral compass to tell what’s right and what’s wrong. While MORGAN doesn’t add anything new to the genre that other films have done way better in doing, at least the film tries to have some sort of message about the evils of playing God with things we can never have the grasp on. You can create looks, personality, intelligence, or even sexuality when it comes to artificial intelligence. But even the greatest of science can never achieve a moral compass or conscience that a computer or science project would be able to comprehend. Morgan is just a physical representation of human nature and the Freud “id vs ego vs superego” theory that we’re taught in psychology books. And because of this, the first half works somewhat to its benefit.

However, the story quickly becomes this horror film where the science project starts killing those she feels have entrapped her because freedom is one of the key things we all want as living creatures. It feels cheap and predictable, never really giving us a reason to care about what’s going on after a decent build of learning about Morgan’s plight. It doesn’t help that the characters around Morgan aren’t all that likable or sympathetic in any way. A couple seem like good people and care about Morgan, but are never given enough time or scenes to really make their relationship with Morgan mean much. The only one who gets any sort of major screen time with Morgan is Amy, a scientist who would spend time with Amy on the outside and sneak her out without the others knowing. Morgan only shows genuine affection towards Amy because she’s been nice to her, and Amy is completely protective over Morgan to a point where it seems like she’s in love with her. It’s an interesting angle I wish was explored more, as it feels as the only one that has any depth. The other characters are either nice to Morgan because they care, or because they have ulterior motives. Some just turn their back on her once she starts behaving out of sorts. Most of these characters don’t feel like real people, just two-dimensional lambs for an eventual slaughter. 

The worst care of this is the other main character besides Morgan - Lee Weathers. Lee is called into the situation to analyze the risks with Morgan, wondering whether the project has any chance of being saved, or should be terminated for the benefit of mankind. While we have an excuse as to why Morgan acts a bit cold besides when it comes to Amy, Lee pretty much has no personality whatsoever. She’s almost robotic in her presence, not allowing us to feel anything about her. Sure, she has a flirtatious relationship with Boyd, the group’s nutritionist, but even that feels sort of one-sided and a bit flat. There’s a twist that reveals some things which make it obvious as to why people behave the way they do, but at least make your main characters likable. I wasn’t sure whether to root for the flawed science project with homicidal tendencies or the cold hearted woman who was there whether to determine whether Morgan lived or died, regardless of how the people around her felt about her decision. That’s not good.

MORGAN is Luke Scott’s [son of famed director Ridley Scott] first feature film. And honestly, I’m not sure what kind of director he wants to be. It’s obvious he has taken things he has learned from his father. Scott definitely has an eye for filmmaking, as the composition of the film looks great and the set designs look modern enough to keep audiences interested. And the action is somewhat shot like what his father would have done if he had directed this film. But there’s no real individual voice yet, as MORGAN looks like any other film you may have seen of this type within the last five to ten years. That being said, the drama-filled first half flows nicely enough and the messy second half is kind of held together by interesting action shots. Unfortunately the film lacks tension, suspense, or excitement for any one to care about what they’re watching. It’s too early to say if Luke Scott should stick with being a second unit director, or continue directing more films. But he definitely has potential as long as the script is a lot better.

MORGAN has a lot of great actors involved, but most of them are pretty wasted here. Anya Taylor-Joy does what she can with the title role, but really isn’t given much to do besides the final act. Taylor-Joy is a very good actress that should have been allowed to portray a beefier role with more depth. But she tried. Kate Mara gets to do more as Lee Weathers, especially during the final act. She plays a cold, stoic woman well, but it doesn’t give her character any depth or likability. At least she got stuff to do. Everyone else do what they can with their roles, with Rose Leslie and Boyd Halbrook being the standouts really. It’s a shame because this is a very solid cast capable of elevating a mediocre film. But because of the bland script or Luke Scott’s inexperience behind the lens, the cast is just sort of there playing archetypical roles. Too bad.

Despite a solid cast and directed by the son of a famous director, MORGAN is a misfire on so many levels. The screenplay doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be in terms of a horror film or a sci-fi drama. The visuals are pretty bland and never provide any sense of tension or excitement. The actors are all good in their roles, but they don’t really get a whole lot to do. The worst part about MORGAN is that it should be a silly fun flick, but never ever tries to be one. It’s an empty film that has nothing to say, even though all the elements that make up the film give it the means to. Watch SPLICE or EX MACHINA if you want a good film about artificial beings. This experiment is not worth exploring.

1.5 Howls Outta 4

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