Overview: Picking up five years after Curse of Chucky, the titular killer doll tracks Nica down to a mental asylum where he continues his assault of terror, while revealing a larger scheme that brings his original target, Andy, back into the fray.
Wanna Play?: It almost goes without saying that by the time the seventh entry of a horror franchise comes around, expectations are pretty low and justly so. The examples are numerous. The same could be said of sixth entries as well. Yet, Don Mancini bucked the trend with 2013’s Curse of Chucky, which broke the curse of horror sixth entries by posing as a franchise reboot while keeping in continuity with the previous five films. Cult of Chucky, free from this sleight of hand, is free to gleefully break the parameters of expectation once again, and bring plenty of new surprises to the table. Regardless of how the Child’s Play movies are received, no one can say that any two entries are alike. Mancini, who has written every installment in the franchise, and took over as director in 2004 with Seed of Chucky, has always gone for something new. Many horror sequels, particularly ones that have their basis in slasher tropes, opt to retread the same ground, but Mancini reinvents with each go ‘round, and becomes ballsier each time. Even when these forays into horror and farce don’t entirely work, they serve as interesting experiments in service to breaking up the seeming monotony of long-running horror franchises. Luckily for us, Cult of Chucky does work, even though the odds say it shouldn’t. This franchise is Mancini’s playground, and this time he’s got plenty of new toys to show off.
Cuckoo’s Nest: Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) finds herself in a mental hospital after being framed for the murders of her family by Chucky (Brad Dourif). When the hospital’s psychologist brings a Good Guy Doll into the hospital for group therapy sessions, the patients start believing the doll is alive. And then the murders begin. All signs point to Chucky, but that seems impossible because Chucky is with Andy (Alex Vincent), whose own madness finds him torturing the doll in a variety of fashions as payback for the years of torment. An asylum seems almost too easy a setting for the horror to take place, but Mancini dispenses with the Gothic style of dark hallways, stone bricks, and cobwebs we expect, and instead presents a cold, clinical setting of utter whiteness. It may not be a wholly original design, but it is a space in which Chucky boldly stands out. Situated in a snowy landscape, the mental hospital becomes the perfect white canvas for Mancini to splash with red. Mancini’s filmmaking here is a clear departure from his previous entries, which drew clear inspiration from John Waters (Seed of Chucky) and the Hammer Horror style (Curse of Chucky). This time around, Mancini seemingly draws inspiration from Kubrick and Forman, while still maintaining his own sensibilities and eye for perspective-driven humor and horror. The result is his best directed feature.
Just as the setting dispenses with the Gothic familiarity, the same goes for the patients (Maria Stephenson, Adam Hurtig, Grace Lynn Kung, and Elisabeth Rosen), who each have specifically diagnosed disorders that determine their behaviors, rather than collectively succumbing to plot crutch of craziness for craziness sake. Chucky uses their specific diagnoses against them as a means to enact his revenge on Nica and Andy, which leads to surprising twists and some of the franchise’s goriest moments. As with any of the franchise’s entries, there’s a fair bit of camp that goes in hand with these psychological conflicts, but there’s also a fair bit of care that makes sure that these characters are at Chucky’s expense but not the film’s.
Friends ‘til the End: Cult of Chucky tonally vacillates between serious solemnity and sinister schlock, and these two sides come together quite succinctly due to the lead performances. Fiona Dourif is something of a revelation and a breath of fresh air to the franchise. She’s a smart protagonist, who commands every scene she’s in with a sense of genuine humanity that both fragile and iron-willed. This is contrasted by Jennifer Tilly’s Tiffany, who is perhaps our finest camp actor, and feigns emotion with an indulgence that is fascinating to watch. Watching all the previous threads of the franchise come together, with new characters interacting with the old ones, is undoubtedly a venture in fan-service. Yet, when so many sequels chose to remove their less popular installments from continuity, Mancini embraces owns them, all to the benefit of Cult of Chucky’s madness and a third act that has the potential to completely re-write the rules going forward. Without ruining any of the surprises, Mancini sets up the long game with Cult of Chucky with an entry that’s a blast in own right while also leaving us begging for another chapter to be released sooner rather than later.
Overall: Mancini wears the coat of B-movie filmmaker with pride, and Cult of Chucky is unabashedly a B-movie while also challenges our expectations of what that means. Some elements may prove divisive, but ultimately the film opens up the world of Child’s Play to epic proportions, and it seems certain that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Chucky in the future. Cult of Chucky doesn’t always rise above its limited budget, but it’s a film that you can tell is made with love. That may be an odd thing to say about a film featuring a sadistic, foul-mouthed killer doll, but there is a collective sincerity to it. While major studios are struggling with how to bring back beloved horror characters, Mancini makes it seem as easy as…well, child’s play.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment