Review: Curse of Chucky

 

The Child’s Play franchise has never been one of my favorites in the genre.  The first film, directed by Fright Night‘s Tom Holland, was a perfectly serviceable horror film, but the series quickly took a downturn from there.  Brad Dourif’s performance as the voice of Chucky the killer doll is always solid, in much the same way Robert Englund’s efforts as Freddy Krueger are often better than the movies surrounding them.  After numerous recommendations from horror fans, I reluctantly turned back to the Child’s Play films with the recent release of Curse of Chucky.  Despite some script problems, I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

The strength of Curse of Chucky is immediately discovered in its characters.  From the first scene, we’re introduced to Nica (Fiona Dourif), a paraplegic young woman who lives in a large house with her troubled mother.  Over protective to a fault, Nica’s mother, Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle), is surprised to be the recipient of a Good Guy doll from an unknown sender.  She trashes the doll, but ends up dead later that night, the victim of an apparent suicide.  Nica’s sister, Barb (Danielle Bisutti), and her family descend on the house, along with Father Frank (A Martinez).  Also in tow are Barb’s husband, Ian (Brennan Elliot), and an attractive young nanny, Jill (Maitland McConnell), and there appears to be a bit of a spark between husband and nanny.  It becomes all-too-apparent that Barb, under money strains, wants to sell the family home and send Nica to an assisted living facility.  Nica resists, assuring her family she can survive on her own despite her disability.  She also gifts the Good Guy doll to her young niece, Alice (Summer Howell), who shares a strong relationship with her aunt.

The majority of the action in the film takes place in a single night, as Chucky reveals himself to young Alice and goes about the business of dispatching the other family members so he can hijack Alice’s body as a repository for his doll-bound soul.  In typical horror-movie fashion, the night is a dark and stormy one, with frequent timely power outages and phone failures, but those contrivances serve to build tension in a fun way, despite their familiarity.

Writer and director Don Mancini, who wrote the original Child’s Play, as well as the other films in the franchise, helms this effort as he did with Seed of Chucky, and he has a nice visual eye and sense of pacing.  He clearly enjoys the use of reflection and background action, even going so far as to ape a moment from Carpenter’s Halloween to great effect.  The film looks clean, and has a real sense of atmosphere thanks to some great lighting and angles.  It doesn’t hurt, either, that the production design is rock solid, all contributing to make this setting a spooky old house worth remembering.

Also, Chucky is big in this movie, almost as tall as Alice herself.  One of my greatest complaints with killer doll movies is the fact that these are, in essence, small things that you could hold at arm’s length like Moe from the Three Stooges.  This one, though, is well-articulated thanks to some great forced perspective shooting and fantastic mechanical effects, and comes off as being threatening and a real danger.  Couple that with Brad Dourif’s performance as the killer Charles Lee Ray in doll form, and you have yourself an honest-to-goodness scary doll.   For the first time in this series, I found the notion of Chucky to be a frightening one.

The script, sadly, is a bit of a mixed bag.  While the characters are well-defined, and well-acted, too, Mancini raises some issues that never see much resolution.  As if to thumb the eye of Ibsen, the nanny, Jill, displays aptitude in opening a locked bathroom door that doesn’t matter anywhere else in the film, and there’s little exploration of A Martinez’s Father Frank and Nica’s resistance to religion, except to create an excuse for an early kill.  And yet, there are also some nice turns, and one moment that defies audience’s expectations of the nanny character in a wonderful way.  I wish another pass had been given to the script to tighten up some of the loose ends, but it’s not a travesty by any stretch of the imagination.

The biggest sin the script commits, though, is Chucky’s plan.  His aim, apparently, is to steal Alice’s body away from her.  It begs the question, however, how does he know of the existence of Alice?  There is explanation of his relationship with this family, which is perfectly satisfactory, but his plot to kill Sarah in hopes of drawing the family back to this house, along with a child he couldn’t possibly be aware of, is a fairly shoddy evil plot for this villain.  When the third act info-dump comes, one expects Mancini would have accounted for this fairly basic question.

Still, the movie operates at its base level as a thrill ride, and it’s very successful at what it aims to do.  I was actively rooting for Nica to survive and Chucky proves a worthy adversary to Nica and her family in this film.  The resolution of her character is surprisingly dark, but in a way that makes sense for the characters and the tone of the film.  The last moments suggest a relationship to the previous films, one of which I haven’t seen, so I’ll forgive the abruptness of its arrival as a nod to fans of the franchise and resist too much red-pen criticism of these final images, suffice to say it seems like the end of this movie should have been the real beginning, in terms of Chucky achieving his goal.

With all its flaws, Curse of Chucky is the best of the series since the original film and may, in fact, be better than that 1980s favorite.  If you’re looking for a put-logic-on-hold-and-eat-some-popcorn scary movie, this one fits the bill nicely and has me excited to see what Mancini brings to the table in the next entry into the franchise.  And that may be the best praise of all.