There are two movies opening this weekend that feature iconic anthropomorphic dolls. Be very careful which one you choose.
“Toy Story 4” has the usual gang of lovable toys led by Woody and Buzz. (Bring tissues.) Then there’s the remake of “Child’s Play,” which has Chucky, the freckle-faced homicidal doll who likes stabbing things. (Bring a strong stomach.)
The reviews for “Toy Story 4” are pretty good and you might be surprised to find that the “Child’s Play “ reboot is actually pretty solid, too. It’s a winking, self-aware horror movie that will make you laugh even when things are drenched in blood.
The original “Child’s Play” came out in 1988 and featured the nightmare-creating concept of your dolls coming to life and harming you. It was a fairly straight-ahead horror flick with a dash of commentary on consumerism. But the franchise — six sequels — gradually grew camp, most recently with “Cult of Chucky” in 2017.
The reboot this summer has sidestepped Chuck’s real dad — the writer and director Don Mancini — and freshened the concept for 2019: Chucky is no longer possessed. Now he’s a cloud-connected, self-learning AI doll with wide powers: He controls the lights, TVs, Roomba, cars and other electronic devices. Underneath the gleeful horror is a commentary on our dependence and the interconnectivity of our devices.
Director Lars Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith don’t pretend the killer doll trope hasn’t been done before. They fully dive into it, gently mocking the genre as they exploit it and signal to the audience all along what they’re doing. “You’re my best friend,” says Chucky when he’s taken out of the box. To which his new owner naturally says: “It’s kind of creepy.”
This time, Chucky is created by the nefarious Kaslan Corporation, which has a range of interconnected products. A sweatshop worker in Vietnam tasked with assembling the dolls disconnects one of its security protocols in a fit of pique. It ends up in the hands of a single mother (Aubrey Plaza) and her lonely son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Chucky tries to understand human behavior but stumbles at subtlety. He’s imprinted to Andy and lashes out at anything that Andy dislikes, whether that’s the family cat or his mom’s new boyfriend.
There’s so much tongue-in-cheek humor that even though the body count mounts — and some in the audience may be surprised that death comes to animals and beloved figures alike — there’s really no dread. Somehow, despite “Silence of the Lambs”-level carnage, the gore level doesn’t shock, inoculated as we are by being in on the joke. Riffing off that, composer Bear McCreary leans in on “Omen”-like, ever-building horror music.
Surprisingly, we are having fun. While most of the oxygen will be taken up this weekend with “Toy Story 4,” credit goes to “Child’s Play” for turning in a solid valentine to the darker side of what “Toy Story” also does — including movie posters that drag the bigger franchise.