Child’s Play

A mother gives her 13-year-old son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

Aubrey PlazaMark HamillGabriel BatemanBrian Tyree Henry

Friends to the End.

*Minor spoilers*

This is one of my most anticipated films of the year and I’m delighted to report that it was heaps of fun and I was not disappointed at all.

The end.

Kidding. There are still a few things to be said about the new-and-not-so-improved Chucky. I need to make it clear first that my love for Chucky runs deep. I’ve been in love with the trashy AF Child’s Play franchise since forever and genuinely found the first few films terrifying. The way the little guy ran around, pushing unsuspecting baby-sitters out of windows, ramming knives into his victims – it was the stuff of nightmares.

Chucky is my icon, my love – and if it wasn’t cultural appropriation, my spirit animal. Perhaps I identify because we’re both ginger and look good in dungarees, whatever – he’s up there in the horror big leagues and he’s my friend to the end. So having him rebooted is kind of a big deal. Thankfully, the creators have brought us a familiar tale while making it just different enough that it doesn’t compete with the originals. As if anything could.

Karen Barclay (Plaza) and her son Andy (Bateman) have just moved to Chicago to start a new life. Karen works retail at the local Walmart-type store where toy-of-the-moment, the Buddi doll is flying off shelves. The Buddi doll is a fully interactive doll created by global giant The Kaslan Corporation – and it seems there’s not much it can’t be trained to do.

One day, Karen blackmails her boss into letting her take home a faulty doll for Andy’s birthday. Andy’s also been struggling to get out of the apartment since they arrived in town and Karen wants to cheer him up. The range is about to be usurped by Buddi 2, the next model so she figures nobody’s going to miss her broken doll.

Did you say Chucky?

Andy’s dubious about Buddi at first, being too cool and too old to play with dolls but mum persuades him to at least have a look. Buddi quickly renames himself ‘Chucky’ and after imprinting on Andy, becomes his shadow. Andy finds Chucky one creepy motherfucker but they soon bond when it becomes clear that the doll actually gets him.

Oh, didn’t I mention that Chuck is faulty for a reason? A disgruntled worker at the Vietnamese factory where the Buddi dolls are assembled has disabled all Chucky’s safety guards before taking his own life. I do hope none of this comes back to haunt anybody…

As Andy and Chucky get friendlier – and start hanging out with some of the neighbourhood kids – Fay (Beatrice Kitsos), Pugg (Ty Consiglio) and Omar (Marlon Kazadi) – things seem to be on the up. Except for Karen’s douchey boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), who Andy despises. But horror movies aren’t usually charmed and happy for long and Chucky begins to display some possessive tendencies which start to have dire consequences for anyone who crosses Andy. Bless.

Also living on the same block is neighbour Doreen (Carlease Burke) who is frequently visited by her son, Detective Mike (Henry). Mike strikes up an acquaintance with Andy and his mother – which is handy when Chucky takes violent action against somebody they all know. With hilarious consequences – it has to be said that I laughed a lot during this murder sequence and the subsequent aftermath. It’s stretched out quite a lot but it fits the childishness of the story, also giving me Stranger Things/Stephen King vibes. You’ll know what I mean when you see it – it’s incredibly macabre and I ADORE IT.

Unfortunately, Andy can’t just be living in sweet harmony with his homicidal best pal and action must be taken. Which betrays Chucky’s trust and makes him mad. Really mad.

If they don’t let us play, they all go away.

The film climaxes at the Buddi 2 launch and I’m afraid it’s brilliant. Disgusting, creepy, tense but ultimately, so much fun. I love the new Chucky, I’m sorry Classic Chucky. Nobody’s ever going to replace you in my heart but Buddi Chuck is pretty adorable. The A.I. has a very saccharine look and I thought it would jar on me but oddly enough, I settled quite quickly into the new aesthetic.

Child’s Play: Reloaded succeeds in making our antagonist a sympathetic one which is impressive given he’s essentially just a hunk of plastic and metal. His reasons are pure and true – he just doesn’t have boundaries.

While I did miss the supernatural angle, this was lighthearted and silly, making me LOL several times. Hamill’s voice work is lovely and subtle, Plaza is her usual gorgeous kooky self – and Bateman as Andy is really good. In contrast to Jackson A. Dunn in Brightburn, Bateman is a natural who easily carries the film. The children are all great and they’re the main fixture for me. The A.I. is bad messaging is irritating though it has to be said.

I want more and I also really want to watch the originals again. STAT. Bravo, team.

Film details:

Child’s Play
Year: 2019
Director: Lars Klevberg
IMDB Rating: 6.5/10
My Rating: 4/5

What are you watching?

Brightburn

What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

Elizabeth Banks • David Denman • Jackson A. Dunn

He’s Not Here To Save The World.

*Minor spoilers*

Brightburn is essentially the Superman origin story, had Supes not been the earnest jobsworth that he is – and had been bad to the bone instead. Which is a cool direction to take such a well-known and well-loved story.

Tori (Banks) and Kyle Breyer (Denman) long for a child of their own. One night they get a visit from a mysterious meteorite that crash lands in the middle of their farm. Several years later we meet their son Brandon (Dunn), a slightly odd (soon to be) twelve-year-old doted on by his adoring mother.

Brandon as it happens is on the cusp of his teen years but clearly doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Mildly bullied by his peers, he finds comfort in his classmate Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), who tells him smart guys get into good schools. Brandon also likes to doodle which might be a detail we’ll come back to later.

On Brandon’s twelfth birthday, something changes dramatically. He starts reacting to something the Breyers have stored in the barn. He’s woken in the night and drawn to the locked hatch that leads to this mysterious secret. It’s not a spoiler to say that it is of course an alien spacecraft of some kind. The very craft that delivered Brandon to earth from wherever it is he came from.

So Brandon is special in every sense of the word and his parents grow frightened that he’s about to discover his unique origin. Unfortunately, this awakening in Brandon – stirred up by an alien transmission from the ship – has a very negative effect on the boy. Shit starts to go down as he finally starts to figure out a few things for himself.

Brandon becomes creepier and creepier, behaving inappropriately around Caitlyn and, after lashing out violently, ends up in session with his aunt, the school councilor Merilee McNichol (Meredith Hagner). Along with her husband Noah (Matt Jones), Merilee forms Brandon’s small family unit. Which is shame when the McNichols become more concerned about the changes in their nephew, with devastating consequences.

When local diner owner Erica (Becky Wahlstrom) goes missing after what looks like a robbery at the restaurant, Sheriff Deever (Gregory Alan Williams) finds some intriguing evidence at the scene. But what does it mean? Well, there aren’t many surprises here in terms of twists and turns, Brandon is a bad guy with a mission to “Take the world” – whatever the cost. But is there still good in him, as his hopeful mother suggests?

Well, I enjoyed this much more than anticipated. If I’m honest, the trailer gives away a lot but there is enough in the film to make up for it. The most notable thing about Brightburn is how relentlessly (and deliberately) gory it is. Like for real, I had to watch several of the scenes through fanned fingers. There’s one scene that turned my stomach enough for me to put down the giant chocolate buttons, which is no mean feat.

Elizabeth Banks is terrific. I really bought her as a mother who will stop at nothing to protect her kid. It’s devastating to go through the gamut of emotion that she does, as the penny drops about what a turd her boy is. Pretty sure he never told her to fuck off when she asked him to mow the lawn though, Timothy James Martin.

Ultimately, however this isn’t the most memorable movie of all time. Dunn doesn’t have a lot of range as an actor yet – and that does affect things. I get that he’s strange but I would have liked to feel some empathy for him. I really do appreciate how little we know about where he’s from and what may happen next. And the climax was great, dark as shit and poignant.

Special shout out to the brilliant Michael Rooker in his pre-credit scenes. As conspiracy theorist The Big T, he sites several sightings of other familiar comic book characters around the world, including a witch that strangles people with ropes… I want to hear more about her.

Film details:

Brightburn
Year: 2019
Director: David Yarovesky
IMDB Rating: 6.4/10
My Rating: 3.5/5

What are you watching?

Black Mirror – Season 5: Striking Vipers

Season 5 of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has been getting mixed reviews. I agree that the three episodes in the new set aren’t as strong as some of their previous counterparts but it’s still innovative and interesting television, and shouldn’t be written off completely.

They’ve actually inspired me to go back to the beginning and review a few of the best episodes over the years so I’ll start examining those soon. For now though, to Season 5, Episode 1 – Striking Vipers.

Two estranged college friends reunite in later life, triggering a series of events that could alter their lives forever

Anthony MackieYahya Abdul-Mateen IINicole Beharie

*Minor spoilers*

Karl and Danny are old buddies from college. They’re also gamers who enjoy playing the fighting game Striking Vipers in their down time. The pair always play as Lance and Roxette. Danny (Mackie) lives with his girlfriend Theo (Beharies) – and one night the pair pretends to be strangers in a bar to spice up their lives. After they’ve done the business back home, Danny gets up and goes to play Vipers with Karl, who is crashing on their sofa.

Fast forward 11 years and the landscape looks very different. Danny and Theo are still together, married with a five-year-old. At a birthday barbecue for Danny, hosted at their house, Karl arrives after a long period of the friends having lost touch. He brings a present: Striking Vipers and a virtual reality kit which is needed to experience the game as it is now intended.

Ooooh!

That night the pals have a game wearing the kit, which transports them into the Striking Vipers world while their earthly bodies lay motionless in their respective homes. Danny’s surprised and exhilarated to find that not only is he fully immersed in his character’s environment, he can also experience pain from the fighting blows.

When they’re done fighting, Roxy (Karl) and Lance (Danny) share a passionate kiss – Danny and Karl then promptly leave the game, shocked and appalled at what they’ve done. But one thing leads to another and the characters start having a sexual relationship within the confines of the game. All the while the men can’t get enough of their virtual affair. At one point Danny remarks that he guesses they’re gay now and Karl responds that he thinks what they have goes much deeper.

“That’s us gay now.”

Danny starts to grow distant from his family, and when Theo calls him up on his strange behavior, he tells Karl they have to stop the affair. This is not before his wife tells him that she gets plenty of offers thanks very much and likes the attention she gets from sexy strangers – so he’d better shape up. (To paraphrase).

Well for a while the boys don’t see each other but things change when Theo throws a surprise dinner for Danny and invites Karl. The pair are frosty at first but then Karl admits that he’s tried everything to recreate the affair Lance has been having with Roxy. To no avail. I don’t want to spoil the conclusion but it stands to reason that the friends decide to meet and work out whether there is a true attraction between them in the flesh.

I’ll let you find out which way it goes. Striking Vipers was an interesting premise to start with – delivering quite the emotional dilemma. It examines masculinity, friendship, sexuality, monogamy – and it does so with the same bittersweet sheen of my favourite episode of all time, San Junipero.

One of the biggest issues with Black Mirror is that I find myself double guessing everything and expected this to take a much darker turn. I’m glad it didn’t in the end and I enjoyed the way it turns outs.

It was also cool to see Mackie in a different role to Falcon, who I’m just not that crazy about.

Episode details:

Striking Vipers
Year: 2019
Director: Owen Harris
IMDB Rating: 6.9/10
My Rating: 3/5

What are you watching?