‘Curse of Chucky’ Movie Review – comfortably extends Chucky’s warranty

Curse of Chucky childplay6
Written and directed by Don Mancini
USA, 2013

Curse of Chucky arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 8th with both R-rated and unrated versions included, courtesy of Universal Studios.

****

Halloween, Friday the 13thNightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play. Which one of those franchises should not belong? The first three feature tall, powerful, humanoid, seemingly immortal  foes that have struck fear and admiration in the minds and hearts of horror movie fans for decades already. Each has proven so successful that remakes of all three have already been attempted. The fourth one, Child’s Play, has as its villain a walking, foul mouthed doll. Let that not fool anyone into believing it has not earned the enduring love from legions of fans for decades as well. However much some may want to mock the concept, more than enough people will rise up to defend the malevolent monster.

Original series creator Don Mancini, who last made a Chucky film in 2004 with Seed of Chucky, returns with Curse of Chucky, presenting the film to the public for the very first time at the 2013 Fantasy Film Festival. In this latest installment, the infamous doll is mysteriously delivered to a stunning old house owned by a fractured family: Mother Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle) and her physically handicapped daughter Nica (Fiona Dourif). When Sarah is suddenly found dead in a pool of her own blood one night,  Nica’s sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti), brother-in-law (Brennan Elliot) and niece Alice (Summer H. Howell) come to visit, mourn and discuss what should be done with the house. The time to pick up the pieces is cut short, so to speak, when the curious, supposedly inanimate new member to the family takes a hold over little Alice. There is obviously more than meets the eye with this eerie looking toy.

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Immediately noticeable in the new episode is the no nonsense attitude adopted by writer-director Don Mancini. Curse is most definitely not interested in trying to lighten the mood with comedy inspired by the oft-mocked premise. What chuckle inducing moments that do occur are rather brief for the most part and spawn organically out of the dark, nightmarish cloud that blankets the film. There is an undeniable sense that the series has taken a u-turn and embraced its original identity, namely that the redheaded, vengeful antagonist is here to be creepy first, funny second. Brad Dourif, who has provided the villain’s voice since the very start of the franchise, returns once more and is more than capable of providing darkly humorous moments, although they each possess a bit of a mean-spirited backbone. Dourif is one of those criminally underrated actors and finding a weak performance in his body of work is next to impossible. For years he has embodied the spirit of Chucky and while his voice might sound just a little bit more gruff then it once did, his performance as the villain is still one of the main reasons to seek the film out.

In fact, there are several reasons to seek the Curse out, among them the impressive aesthetic, fit for what otherwise could have been a fine ghost story, but replace specters with a very strange looking doll. The set design and lighting exquisitely compliment one another, enveloping the entire house in a sickly gothic atmosphere. There are a handful of moments in which the play of light and shadow are exceptional in emphasizing the iconography of the titular monster. Seeing a knife wielding Chucky’s silhouette approach a door through a series of flashes from a storm’s lightning, while incredibly brief, is one such highlight, another being a beautiful scene in which Nica holds Chucky on her lap in the building’s lift when the electricity is cut. An overhead shot from above a dining room table as the family and a guest are about to dine is further proof of Mancini’s maturation and evolution as a director. Furthermore, that same scene demonstrates his appreciation for Hitchcockian tension. Yes, there is now a Chucky film with qualities that Alfred Hitchcock would love.

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What would a review of a new Chucky film be without at least succinctly touching on the looks of the doll himself, and what a doll he is. In an age where rescorting to computer generated imagery is the avenue chosen to create the beings movie fans fear, Curse keeps things decidedly old school. What CG has been implemented is minimal. The character himself has never looked better, with the advancements in animatronics (and the talent of the technicians) making Chucky appear as real and creepy as a killer doll ever will. Curse offers the absolute best visual depiction of the character and it is a joy to watch the efforts of people who had to manipulate a real prop bear fruit the way it does here.

The human characters also prove to be worthy of spending time with, which is not always the case when it comes to slasher films. Of course, there is only a finite amount of time before the blood must begin to splatter to appease some good old fashioned bloodlust. Getting the audience to engage with some characters they know full well are never going to make it out alive probably is even trickier to pull off than it sounds (and it sounds very, very tricky). Mancini equips himself with a very solid cast, each one bringing their own touch to the respective roles. Danielle Bisutti is especially convincing as a control freak sister who has her own plans for Nica and the house. Fiona Dourif is given the most difficult task of not only playing the heroine struggling with emotional issues of her own, but doing so while spending the entire film in a wheelchair or dragging herself across floors and staircases. Thankfully she is more than up to the challenge and definitely becomes someone the audience can cheer on when danger comes running. Chantal  Quesnelle’s role is a bit more limited, but she makes the most her scenes, playing a mother fighting a form of depression which has caused her to misguidedly shield Nica from harm.

Curse of Chucky confidently builds a new, unique story within the franchise mythos, effectively serving as an entry level film for movie goers who perhaps never seen any of the previous tales all the while giving the long time fans what they want, sometimes in ways that are quite surprising. Curse is a well crafted bit of horror escapism that will please the eyes and provide some decent chills, not to mention some wonderfully discomforting kills. The die hards can rest easy, Chucky is still your friend till the end.

-Edgar Chaput

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