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Curse of Chucky
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by Jay Seaver

"A fun, if low-key, return for a memorable monster."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: If Universal had known a few months earlier that Paramount wouldn't have the latest "Paranormal Activity" movie ready in time for Halloween, I'd like to think they might have put "Curse of Chucky" in theaters rather than send it straight to video in early October. There's no denying that its not as spiffy as it might have been if it had been made with the big screen in mind, but it's a pretty new-viewer-friendly entry in the franchise with some solid scares.

Indeed, it's so committed to the audience being able to start here that it doesn't tip its hand when a Good Guys doll arrives in the mail, addressed to widowed artist Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle), who lives alone in a large spooky house with her daughter Nica (Fiona Dourif). Fans of the franchise will not be particularly surprised that Sarah isn't long for the picture, bringing her older daughter Barb (Danielle Bisutti), her husband Ian (Brennan Elliott), their daughter Alice (Summer H. Howell), and her nanny Jill (Maitland McConnell) to settle the estate. Unfortunately, Alice soon becomes fond of "Chucky" (voice of Brad Dourif), even saying she has conversations with the doll. This wouldn't end well even if the house wasn't isolated, with questionable wireless coverage and electricity, especially since the most sensible person there, Nica, is in a wheelchair.

Writer/director Don Mancini has been with the Child's Play franchise since writing the original twenty-five years ago, and while there may have been some temptation on the studio's part to reboot the series, Mancini instead delivers something along the lines of a soft reset, not directly picking up from what had come before but not invalidating it either, putting everything a newcomer (like, say, myself) would need in the script and not relying too much on anything in particular from the previous five installments, though having some awareness of them doesn't hurt. It's a nice balancing act, producing something that won't leave new audiences confused or old ones feeling like they've been abandoned.

Just looking at the entry on its own, Mancini and company build something pretty entertaining. It's an "old dark house" movie which just happens to have Chucky scurrying around, and doing something limited and restrained like that is well within the production's capabilities. There are some fairly wobbly parts of the script - Chucky's goal isn't particularly clear until he's just about to achieve it, at which point he seems to have been going at it the long way around; and this multi-floor house, even with its creaky elevator, doesn't make a whole lot of sense if Nica has been paraplegic since birth and the family moved there afterwards (and she's got pretty nice muscle tone on her legs if that's the case). On the other hand, the story works nicely in terms of giving everyone stakes and something interesting to do, and Mancini occasionally has a knack for setting up something that looks done-to-death and taking it along a more entertaining path.

He's also come up with an entertaining but thoroughly murderable cast of characters, which the cast realizes nicely enough. It's fun for the series that Fiona Dourif is Brad's daughter, but she proves quite the enjoyable lead regardless; there's a sense that she's lived with her characters' challenges (both the physical ones and the patronizing people that come with them) long enough to react but not overreact. She's also generally appealing, especially compared to Barb, whom Daniel Bisutti makes plastic and snotty but not outright horrible. Brennan Elliott and Maitland McConnell play off each other well as the father and the nanny-that-the-family-can't-really-afford-so-who-must-therefore-be-there-for-other-reasons. Summer Howell is pretty good as the girl who needs to outgrow dolls quick, although she is conspicuously absent at times, probably because the movie had a short schedule and you can only have pre-teens on-set for so long.

And, of course, there's Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky, and while I don't know that this is one of the top-tier horror villains, there's a working-class-killer appeal to how his wisecracks are sometimes more incongruously vulgar coming from a kid's doll than especially clever. The Chucky doll itself proves to be a great tool for Mancini, who by now has figured out just how to play its cheery wide-eyed/open-mouthed facade against the monster the audience knows is inside while also working that dolls are often creepy on their own. The animatronics and puppeteering are solid; they are occasionally augmented by some CGI, but for the most part, both the evil doll and the satisfyingly bloody kills are handled practically. A better-than-average score by Joseph LoDuca ties things together (Mancini said during the Q&A that a signature "Chucky theme" was one of the things he'd felt the series was missing, and he's got one now).

I can't speak to whether longtime fans of the series will see this as a step down or break from the more elaborate prior entries, though the folks at the festival seemed to like it. You can certainly tell that it was made on a tight budget, but Mancini makes good enough use of what he has that this certainly feels like something that could be released in theaters, especially since it can be fun to see familiar faces at holidays, even if the day is Halloween and the face is a possessed doll.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25444&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/11/13 23:49:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/06/13 Pearl Bogdan seems a little out of place with the rest of the series but not bad 4 stars
9/26/13 Josh Excellent wrap-up to the series if they use this as a closing point for the original. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  N/A (R)
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

UK
  21-Oct-2013

Australia
  N/A (MA)
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013


Directed by
  Don Mancini

Written by
  Don Mancini

Cast
  Brad Dourif
  A Martinez
  Danielle Bisutti
  Fiona Dourif
  Brennan Elliott



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