Somehow meeting Chucky in a run-down mental institution on Halloween felt, well, right. If anything – almost too on the nose.
It’s a rainy Vancouver day when a couple journalists (including myself) journey to the fabled Riverview Hospital – which I’m told repeatedly is the number one location to shoot at in the city. Today, the crew of Child’s Play (in their last week or so of production) have set up shop there. It would be fair to assume the crew is prepping for a creepy derelict hospital set-piece; but in actuality – they’ve merely redressed a single room into a basement locker. It almost felt like a weird practical joke: shooting two short scenes… in a supposedly haunted mental institution. In my head, I imagine an AD & Location Manager cackled with glee at the thought.
There’s been seven films in the Child’s Play franchise, all entwined in the same interlocking mythology: a mortally-wounded serial killer, Charles Lee ‘Chucky’ Ray, transfers his rotten soul into a child-sized ‘Good Guy’ doll. Said doll is then bought by a single mom as a present for her six year old son, Andy – who the evil doll marks as the perfect human vessel. From there it’s pretty simple: Chucky tracks Andy down (through the sequels & decades), killing everyone who gets in his way… which (turns out to be) quite a lot.
However the new Child’s Play reboot takes significant departure from this mythos – the first in the series to tell a new stand-alone story. The basics are still the same: A single mom (Aubrey Plaza) buys her son Andy a ‘Buddi’ doll – which, of course, has a mind of its own. But this new Chucky isn’t a voodoo-imbued serial killer; it’s high-tech AI gone bad (voiced now by Mark Hamill). This new technology-run-amok angle opens the series up to a bevy of interesting choices, many of which I learned about on set. Below are all the bullet-point highlights.
Andy (Gabriel Bateman) has been aged up for the reboot – now a lonely twelve year old boy, moving into a new apartment complex. His single mom Karen (Plaza) just wants her quiet son to have a friend – so she buys him a discount version of the new AI ‘Buddi’ doll. You should never buy discount AI tech.
- Since Andy has been aged up, he doesn’t immediately take (or even want) the doll.
- Per the on-set toy’s box: the Buddi doll “learns from human interaction, and its twenty sensors & cameras provide detailed real time info about the environment.” The doll can “comprehend and converse in English and Spanish.”
- The Buddi doll’s tagline – “I’m your Best Buddi. Let’s play!”
- The Buddi doll was designed by a shady AI tech/military company, The Kaslan Corporation.
- Also, per the toy’s box: The Buddi can control all other Kaslan products and smart home devices (this will be a very important plot point later on).
- The Buddi doll comes in different models: There’s the expected red-haired, freckled design, but also a Blonde, African-American, and (strangest of all) bear version of the ‘Buddi’ doll. And by bear – I do mean a totally furry & clawed version of the doll (this would be my pick of the bunch).
- Each doll has blue eyes, which naturally turn red when they go bad/malfunction.
- The film’s puppet designers went through a variety of different looks for the Buddi doll, ultimately landing on a model fairly similar to the original Chucky. The biggest difference though lies in the eyes. In the original series, Chucky’s eyes were circular & doll-like; but with the new AI-bend for the reboot, the eyes here have been re-adjusted to be more life-like, signifying the similarity between AI & human, and in turn making Chucky more relatable.
- The big question: How does the new AI Buddi Doll get the name ‘Chucky’? Well… people on set were rather close-lipped on the specifics; but I do know that the doll is ultimately given this name. Supposedly, there’s a fun “naming sequence” between Andy and the doll – where the Buddi doll must cooperate and accept his name. So Andy keeps trying to give Buddi different names, but the AI only wants to be called ‘Chucky.’ Why the doll is so keen on this name, I couldn’t get an answer on; nor if this has any connection with the original series villain, Charles Lee Ray.
- Chucky (per director Lars Klevberg) is far more empathetic in the reboot. Chucky’s arc in the film is “a Greek tragedy” rooted in understandable motivations. “[Chucky’s] motivation is understandable from his point of view but also to us,” he said “We can understand why he’s behaving like that. For every great antagonist, that’s really interesting. Because if you understand the antagonist and his motivations, than you can identify with him.”
- Klevberg looked to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein as the primary influence for the reboot and Chucky’s arc
- Andy isn’t alone in his fight against AI Chucky. He teams up with a number of other kids in his apartment complex, forming a rag-tag team (a la Stranger Things). Of course, the adults have a hard time believing in an evil AI doll, so it’s up to the kids to save the day.
- In addition to Aubrey Plaza, Bryan Tyree Henry (Widows) adds some adult-gravitas to Child’s Play as Detective Mike Norris. After Plaza/Karen’s new boyfriend gets diced up in the apartment complex, Detective Norris looks into solving the murder. Norris’s own alcoholic mother actually lives nearby in the building, so the killing(s) feel especially close to him.
- I watched two scenes filmed in the basement lockers – the first was between Plaza’s Karen & Henry’s Detective Norris. The scene takes place in the aftermath of the first murder (i.e. Karen’s boyfriend). Karen sneaks down into the basement to have a smoke, when Detective Norris interrupts – “Are you really going to smoke that down here?” “What are you going to do? Arrest me?” she retorts. The two then have a heart to heart, Karen confiding that she isn’t too broken up about her boyfriend’s demise. He wasn’t that a great guy, but she just wanted to give Andy a father figure. She worries that she’s failed Andy as a single mom. Norris comforts Karen, telling her that she’s doing a great job and confiding that he too grew up without a dad. They then share that cig.
- The second scene filmed in the basement takes place further into the picture – as the newfound kid-gang prepares for battle against Chucky. Besides Andy, the gang include Omar (Marlon Kazadi), Chris (Anantjot S. Aneja), Pugg (Ty Consiglio), and Fayln (Beatrice Kitsos). Pugg, as the voice of reason, thinks it’s crazy that a bunch of children are going to try to take down an evil AI doll. “We can’t fight it. It’s going to kill us.” But Fayln isn’t having it – she kicks open a locker, picking up a huge set of garden shears. As the camera dollies into Fayln’s face – “That’s why we’re going to kill it first.”