Friday, 30 August 2013

CURSE OF CHUCKY - A Movie Review

I'm hijacking my own blog about my writing to add my review of this blistering new horror film about one of my favourite horror icons. Forgive me; it's such a good film!

When we last met Chucky (the now iconic two foot tall doll possessed with the spirit of serial killer, Charles Lee Ray, voiced by acting legend, Brad Dourif), he’d murdered Britney Spears by running her off a road, masturbated to a copy of horror magazine, Fangoria, helped his equally murderous partner, Tiffany (voiced by Jenifer Tilly) artificially inseminate, err…..actress Jennifer Tilly (playing, one hopes, a very exaggerated version of herself) and fought his son/daughter, Glen/Glenda (Billy Boyd) in a Matrix-style bout that left him strewn about the shop in bloody pieces.

Yes, I think it’s fair to say Seed Of Chucky, the Good Guy’s last outing, may have ‘jumped the shark’ a tad.

Not that its quirky sensibilities came completely out of left field, of course. Its predecessor, Bride Of Chucky, can be held solely responsible for taking the franchise’s straight horror roots and leading them down a uniquely black comedic path, but let’s not forget; there WAS no franchise left to speak of when Bride was released.

Child’s Play 3, having not only failed to set the box office alight was caught up in the controversy surrounding UK toddler Jamie Bulger’s horrific abduction and murder amidst claims the movie had incited the killers to such acts upon viewing. The film was immediately pulled from all video stockists and became the British media’s scapegoat as they de-cried the ‘video nasties’ plague that had apparently befallen our shores – and so it seemed that this would be the last time the homicidal, foul mouthed Chucky would be gracing our screens, theatrical or otherwise. 

Fast forward a few years and thanks to a wonderfully re-inventive script by Chucky scribe, Don Mancini, and a very talented Chinese director named Ronny Yu, the powers that be decided audiences deserved another slice of ginger mayhem, cleverly deducing that modern audiences should find much to laugh at given the premise of a killer doll who mouthed off. Thus, Chucky was re-born for modern audiences, twice as funny and (if we’re being truthful) twice as brutal. (Not to mention Bride Of Chucky made a shedload of cash at the box office). 

So our stitched up Chuck (love him or loathe him) is to thank for keeping the name ‘out there’ – and this is coming from a lifelong fan! Many hard core Chuckaholics now claim to detest these funny entries in the franchise (I love BOTH incarnations, they both have their place) and took to the forums in their droves, hoping someone, anyone, would listen to pleas of a much quieter back-to-basics-don’t-fuck-with-the-Chuck treatment of Lee Ray and it seems someone was listening; that someone was, no less, the creator of said character and screenwriter of ALL the ‘Chucky’ movies; Mr Don Mancini. 

Make no mistake, Curse Of Chucky marks not only a return to the franchise’s purer horror sensibilities but also a reinvigoration of what made the concept so terrifying to begin with. As much as this movie will impress fans with its imagination and wit, so too will it with its restraint and subtlety.
The movie (forgoing the franchise’s tradition of a resurrection scene) begins immediately with the doll being delivered to the (creepy) house of paraplegic, Nica (Fiona Dourif) and her controlling mother, Sarah (Chantal Quesnelle) with no note and no explanation as to why it was sent there. Cue one very suspicious death later and Nica’s surviving relatives descend upon the house swiftly, each with their own apparent (and ulterior) motives. 

To its credit, Curse Of Chucky, right off the bat, makes it clear this will be a story interested in human interaction first and foremost as we are acutely made aware of the many different ways Nica responds to each one of her uninvited guests, admirable given the fact that the majority of the characters, as with all ‘slashers,’ exist purely as fodder for the killer. (Note; this is NOT standard ‘slasher’ fare; it’s far classier than that). We meet Barb (Danielle Bisutti), Nica’s domineering older sister, Ian (Brennan Elliot), Barb’s easy going husband, Alice (Summer H Howell), Barb’s young daughter, Jill (Maitland McConnell), the sexy young nanny and Father Frank (A Martinez), a close friend of the family. The dialogue immediately convinces that long standing relationships exist between the characters as quips and observations allow each actor to paint their character in, either with subtle tones or wide brushstrokes.

Showing remarkable restraint with a character twenty five theatrical years old, Mancini plays beautifully with the tension building trickery of having Chucky disappear at random moments in the beginning portion of the film. The characters become quite naturally unnerved at the doll’s innate ability to seemingly vanish into thin air. (There’s a beautiful little moment in a bathroom that starts almost clich├ęd and ends in a genuinely funny and charming fashion). It’s a long wait before Chucky finally reveals his true nature (to the expected character if you’re at all familiar with Chucky’s modus operandi) and it’s done in typical foul mouthed Chucky fashion, however once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, the inevitable body count begins; yet, as with most ingredients regarding Curse of Chucky, it’s a deftly controlled rampage that our favourite ginger embarks upon. There are no excesses here, no wildly inventive kills. This is how a real killer doll would kill. Recall the hammer to the eye that caused poor Maggie to fall to her death in the original Child’s Play and you wouldn’t be far off. That’s not to say the film is bloodless, far from it. It finally received an 18 certificate, a rating that had me rather perplexed until two very specific EXTREME close-up shots. If you view the UNCUT version (I’m led to believe two different versions will appear on the DVD and Blu-Ray), be forewarned. The supporting cast dwindles till finally Nica, heartbreakingly vulnerable yet courageously formidable, faces off against Chucky in a tour de force of necessary franchise continuity flashbacks, fan boy orgasmic exposition and brutal explosive violence.

Curse Of Chucky is, in a nutshell, a slick and necessary addition to Chucky’s already established canon. One critic called it ‘Hitchcock Does Chucky’ and I couldn’t agree more. Mancini’s direction is polished, suspense savvy and very self-assured. The cinematography is breath-taking, taking full advantage of the ‘haunted house’ locale as well as impressing with bravado camera moves (the title sequence alone, shot in one smooth steadicam shot, had me in awe). The sound direction is first rate, taking a page from Dario Argento’s bowel loosening score from the classic Suspira and infusing it with an off kilter ‘Good Guys’ tinkle toy piano that genuinely unsettles, not to mention the sound effects themselves. (Did they use a sample of Brad Dourif’s laughter as popping flames as a fire bubbles under a pan in one scene? It certainly sounded like it or, as in all good horror films, was my brain concocting things that simply weren’t there?) The acting across the board was noteworthy yet singular praise must be bestowed upon Fiona Dourif who undoubtedly had not only the toughest role in the movie but the most cynically critiqued. Her father, after all, voices the antagonist and helped the franchise become what it is today. Nepotism surely then is the reason a Dourif was cast in a leading role in Chucky’s return to the screen? After screening the film, you’ll be left in no doubt that Don Mancini cast Fiona Dourif for her acting skills and those alone. The girl is a revelation in a VERY tough break out role. Her sensitivity is apparent from the very first scene and her toughness, once it comes to the fore, is cheer worthy. This is a character you WANT to survive, you NEED to survive, because as a foil to Chucky, Nica is exemplary.
I found only two real flaws with Curse Of Chucky that grated with me but I think they are worth mentioning. First off is the implement of what the Chuckaholics online call ‘the CGI Asian hooker look’ for Chucky. I found this completely unnecessary and very jarring in my perception of the movie. I saw this ‘look’ in two separate scenes in the film (in his first reveal as ‘alive’ and the first death scene) and I cannot for the life of me understand why it was utilised at all. Why couldn’t the animatronic doll handle these shots? I couldn’t connect these shots of Chucky with anything of how he appears further on in the movie and I found it very disconcerting. I feel they could have not appeared at all and the movie would have been stronger. My second gripe I cannot describe in detail without spoiling the film for hard core fans, but I will say only this; actors get old. Putting a wig and glasses on them does not conceal the passing of time.

In short (yep, this review has kind of gotten away from me a bit), Curse Of Chucky is a riot. I was privileged enough to see it at the UK premiere, blessed to have met director, Don Mancini (classy) and lead actress, Fiona Dourif (adorable), and I am PROUD as a Chucky fan that we now have a flagship movie to stand by, to show Hollywood there’s still life in the little fucker.

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