Friday, September 27, 2013

The Cinema File #254: "Curse Of Chucky" Review

Who doesn't love a Killer Toy movie? Well, most people actually. The most recent one I can think of not counting Ooga Booga or anything made by Charles Band was Dead Silence way back in 2007, and there's a reason we don't see as many of them nowadays as we did back when the Child's Play series was in its prime. Don't get me wrong, I love them, but I also understand how most people might find it hard to suspend their disbelief with the idea that a flimsy piece of plastic come to life could be a credible threat. Sure, back in the 80's and 90's when everything came to life as a killer, maybe, but in the post Saw/Hostel age of horror, a monster like Chucky the Killer Doll just doesn't cut it. While I don't think it will, if there's any movie that could bring some new life and new found respect to this faded franchise, its the latest installment, Curse of Chucky, a sequel/reboot hybrid that does pretty much everything right.

Curse of Chucky continues the story of the titular doll possessed by the soul of sardonic serial killer Charles Lee Ray, but does so in such a way that you really don't need to have seen any of the prior movies in order to enjoy it. You still need to know the basics, but no more than you would have gleaned from seeing clips and trailers over the years, and while chronologically it obviously takes place at the end, structurally it is about as close to a reboot as you can get. I was going to compare it to the recent Evil Dead, a remake made by its original producers, but if anything its more like the original Evil Dead 2, a loving revamped homage with the vague hint of sequelization. Not many people know that the Chucky series is one of the few long running horror franchises where every movie was written by the same person, Don Mancini, and while I would be hard pressed to find evidence of a guiding hand or greater mythology, the love for this property is obviously there in every moment of this fifth sequel.

I would argue that the problem of how one might take a killer doll seriously was already handled quite adeptly in the Child's Play series by having the main protagonist be a child. Sure, this reached a point of diminishing returns in the third one when the kid was a teenager, and after that he just started killing adults, but by then it was more of a dark comedy series anyway, so it didn't matter as much. Still, if you need it, Curse of Chucky dispenses with this issue with the brilliantly simple idea of having our heroine confined to a wheelchair (i.e. easy pickens for a height challenged supernatural killer). This is only the first of many novel concepts introduced into the movie to enhance what is at its core an earnest, straight up distillation of the original film's core concept. Its basically Chucky stalking his victims around a creepy old house as you might expect, but its just done so well that I can't bring myself to criticize it for being so formulaic. Its technically Child's Play Six, but I'd just as soon call it Child's Play Plus.

Chucky's main victim this time around is Nica, a paraplegic with a secret connection to the dead killer that even she's unaware of until the end, forced to go from unassuming waif to half-crazed final girl after the doll is mysteriously mailed to her and begins killing off her extended family one by one. She's played by Fiona Dourif, notable at first only for being the daughter of Chucky's voice actor, the great Brad Dourif, but as the movie goes on, you realize that it was far beyond simple stunt casting. Watching her come increasingly unhinged is more fun than the death scenes that should be the main draw of the movie, and her final scene is positively chilling. She comes into her own by the end in a way that really makes me want to see what she does next, and look back on some of her earlier work that I've missed. Also, she's weirdly sexy, which I ordinarily wouldn't bring up because it makes me sound like a perv, except in this case, she looks enough like her father, a man I've for so long associated  with creeps and bad guys, that seeing a young attractive female version is almost creepier than the killer doll.

And speaking of the doll, this is easily a scarier Chucky than you've ever seen him. I'm not saying its outright terrifying to anyone even remotely prepared for it, because honestly, at the end of the day he's still a doll, but don't be surprised if you aren't a little more unsettled by the way its presented here than you ever expected. Its nothing all that different, it doesn't re-invent the Chucky wheel, but there's a consistently serious and suspenseful tone and a style pervading the film that's both nostalgically familiar and strangely novel. For instance, this time around Chucky is back to his original appearance, pre-scars, spending most of the first two acts never shifting from his fake frozen smile. Even when the characters aren't looking, his stare is creepily vacant, but his dilating eyes suggest sinister life within. This makes the eventually reveal of his true form just that much more satisfying. This isn't the overly jokey Chucky of the latter films or the often unintentionally silly Chucky of the original trilogy, but a happy medium that takes the best of both worlds and puts them together into something really special.

If you're not a fan of the Child's Play movies or the Chucky character, or killer toy movies in general, Curse of Chucky probably won't be enough to sway you. This isn't the Cabin In The Woods of Chucky movies, deconstructing the formula for a new generation. These are the tried and true tropes of a particularly niche sub genre of horror just done about as well as they could be done. If however, you are like me and you loved the originals, but maybe got a little sick of the more self-aware direction of the franchise, you really need to give this one a chance. This is a back to basics return to form done with tender love and care by people who have the same morbid appreciation for something as absurd as a murderous toy toddler as you and I do. Purely out of (possibly misplaced) reverence I'm hesitant to say so soon after watching it that its the best of the series, but if it isn't, its pretty damn close. In any case, its the first time in a long time where I'm actually excited at the prospect of seeing the little creep come back again. Here's hoping we get a Child's Play 7 (Chucky In Space?)

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