DIR: Lars Klevberg
STARS: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Mark Hamill, Bryan Tyree Henry, David Lewis
The remake trend of the noughties seems to have calmed down in recent years - and when you look at the quality of such stinkers as reimaginings of A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Fog, and Prom Night, that seems for the best.
However another iconic Eighties genre flick gets the remake treatment this week, in the form of definitive killer doll slasher, Child’s Play.
The story is a little simpler than that of the original, seeing a disgruntled factory worker disengage the safety protocols of the latest must-have toy, a Buddi doll. After messily ending his own life, the doll is dispatched to a sales outlet where single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) picks up the defective toy for her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman), who is struggling to make friends in their new home.
At first the doll’s faulty AI makes it amusing, almost sweet, but as it follows its primary objective to be Andy’s ‘best buddy ‘til the very end’ the people in the around the boy soon find themselves in terrible danger.
The problem with remaking a film such as Child’s Play is that it always raises the question ‘Why bother?’ The original was, and remains, a quality genre offering. So why return to it?
In this regard the story, written by Tyler Burton Smith, deserves some credit as it at least mixes things up and makes things different. The Chucky character is far different to that we are used to, while an older Andy opens up a host of interesting storytelling options.
I’d also like to praise the humour throughout the film. It manages to poke wry fun at its outlandish premise without ever diminishing it, and for the most part, the gags land.
It helps that the movie has such a strong cast. Parks & Rec’s Plaza is fantastic, as is young Bateman. They are ably supported by a host of strong actors, most notably the incredibly likeable Bryan Tyree Henry.
Now, there was a large outcry from fans when it was announced that the remake would not involve franchise creator Don Mancini or original Chucky Brad Dourif. However, by signing up Star Wars’ Mark Hamill to voice the deadly doll, the filmmakers really did strike gold.
Animation fans will already be familiar with Hamill’s impressive body of voice acting work, but those expecting a variation of his Joker voice will be surprised. Instead he almost channels Barney the Dinosaur, giving his Chucky a more child-like demeanour. This is all part of the film’s biggest strength - the doll is a sympathetic character at times, acting like he does not through cruelty or spite, but because something inside his head is broken and simply can’t be fixed. It’s a weighty theme, and one that really works.
Of course, not everything in director Lars Klevberg’s offering is quite so successful. Chucky may be an oddly compelling character but some of the sleazy side characters are decidedly unpleasant and seem to exist purely to bump up Chucky’s body count. As a result a number of the stalk and slash scenes feel like padding and at times a 90minute film seems to drag.
Furthermore, after building to a very strong climax with a cool setting and a pretty great new element of danger introduced, the actual final showdown feels rather anticlimactic.
In conclusion, Child’s Play is a fun film that uses a great cast and a wise decision to do something different with its source material. It provides laughs, a few well worked scares, and even a little unexpected heart. It’s not perfect, but those of you looking for entertainment could do far worse than this.
George (Brad Pennington) and Phin (Clint Browning) are old friends who share an apartment. Finn appears to be a bit of a slacker, whilst George is a bit more respectable and clearly has some kind of gainful employment. However, George is currently recovering from serious arm and leg injuries and is spending a prolonged period recuperating at home. The two seem to spend their days drinking a lot of beer and (more in the case of Finn) smoking a lot of weed. One night, along with George’s girlfriend, Kim (Gena Shaw) and her friend, Olivia (Larena Reyna) the two decide to mess around with a ouija board. Olivia, who is apparently experienced in matters of the occult, decides she does not like the way things are going and stops playing. This is enough to spook George and Kim, who also stop. Phin, who has not been taking the whole thing very seriously, decides to play on, on his own. Bad move (of course), as he seems to have a bit of a turn and pass out. Subsequently, Phin starts to have increasingly bizarre nocturnal episodes of somnambulism, which freak George and Kim out and lead George to suspect that Phin could, in fact, be possessed, which may or may not have something to do with a mystery surrounding their landlord and upstairs neighbour, Mr. Romanovsky.
Insomnium is the writing and directorial debut of Scot Powers and it is a pretty solid first attempt, especially in relation to the writing. Sure, some of the dialogue is a little clunky at times (and it seemed in a couple of scenes as though there may have been some improvisation), but events were nicely arranged - plot point number one (the ouija board) occurs in the opening scene of the film, taking the audience straight into the action. In a movie that dramatises character much more than action, that was a clever touch, as had there been set-up scenes establishing character and motive prior to that plot point, one could imagine a viewer’s patience being tested before the movie really got going.
The characters are pretty well rounded and believable, although for a couple of guys who spend all their time getting smashed and eating takeaways, George and Phin have suspiciously washboard stomachs. Where are all the actors with beer bellies?
The cast have to deliver a lot of exposition and manage to do this whilst keeping it interesting admirably, which is helped by seemingly very good chemistry (especially between Pennington and Browning). Indeed, without knowing anything about it, Insomnium does come across as a bit of a labour of love and it is hard not to suspect that a lot of those involved were friends prior to this. Certainly Insomnium seems to be Powers’ baby and he has writing, directing, producing and editing credits next to his name for it.
Considering that the majority of the shots are interiors, some of the cinematography is eye-catching. The use (or intimation) of that kind of dusky sunset that seems unique to California, creeping through windows to half light characters’ faces, was particularly nice and even made me think, in one instance, of an Edward Hopper painting. Honourable mention to cinematographer, Andrew J. Whittaker (who has twenty odd previous credits, including a couple of music videos for Green Day and Alice in Chains) and his colleagues for that. There is some notable experience in the camera and electrical department, to be fair, with second assistant camera, Jonathan Dec notably working most recently on Spider-man: Far From Home.
Insomnium is, as stated, a decent directorial debut from Powers and definitely worth a watch. Although it maybe struggles to produce any real tension or scares, it holds attention through watching its characters’ relationships develop and Powers does manage to make it feel that as though the audience are on a journey of discovery with George and Phin.