Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Don Mancini
Writer: Don Mancini
Producer: Ogden Gavanski, David Kirschner
Stars: Fiona Dourif, Michael Therriault, Adam Hurtig, Alex Vincent, Elisabeth Rosen, Grace Lynn Kung, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Zak Santiago, Ali Tataryn, Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif
Following four years in an asylum, Nica Pierce questions her sanity when multiple Chucky dolls seemingly start a new killing spree.
It took four years in a maximum-security asylum following her conviction for murder, but Dr. Foley successfully convinced Nica Pierce that the diminutive doll she claims killed her family was a figment of her imagination. Nica’s ongoing therapy now continues at Harrogate, a remote facility filled with an assortment of schizophrenics, delusional baby killers, and a man who alternately believes he is either Michael Phelps or Mark Zuckerberg.
Nica’s ongoing therapy also includes intimate sessions with a Good Guys doll named Chucky. Dr. Foley picked one up at Hot Topic, hoping to heal Nica by forcing her to confront her fears head on. Nica doesn’t want to face one Chucky doll, let alone two. Yet that’s exactly what happens when Tiffany Valentine shows up to drop off a doll that belonged to Nica’s niece Alice.
When strange suicides start decapitating criminally insane patients, Nica immediately assumes the deaths are no accident. She’s suddenly sure one or both Chucks are somehow up to old tricks. What’s weirder though is that if Chucky is indeed haunting Harrogate, how is Andy Barclay still in possession of a severed, sentient Chucky head with a shotgun hole in its face?
Picture the “Child’s Play” series on a graph of competing sine waves where one line measures each installment’s traditional frights while the other constitutes comedic value. The horror line initially dominated the humor line, although the gap between peaks grew until “Seed of Chucky” really widened the margin with its emphasis on campiness over creepiness. “Curse of Chucky” (review here) then brought the humor back down, submerging it under the horror wave once again, to match an overall mood more synched to the first film’s thriller tone.
“Cult of Chucky” stays closely in step with “Curse of Chucky” as a generally straight horror movie. The comedic curve does bump back up a bit however, as writer/director/franchise father Don Mancini is too wise of a filmmaker to take Chucky too seriously. After all, we are talking about a serial killer who transferred his soul into a children’s toy using voodoo, who has also been supernaturally resurrected in one improbable manner after another. There would be something wrong if a Chucky movie didn’t have some sense of humor about itself.
“Cult of Chucky” rides a fluctuating wave of its own as it oscillates atmospheres within the movie. The first half hour stays tight on a slow-to-start psychological mystery, hitting typical notes of “what’s going on?” and “is this all in her head?” suggestions that don’t really fulfill their promise. A particular mid-movie moment involving an open grave doubles down on inferring a sinister conspiracy at the asylum too. It, and a few other ultimately unfair misdirects, don’t make much retrospective sense after the plotline’s truth is in the open.
But once Chucky starts being Chucky, which isn’t until halfway through, “Cult of Chucky” starts getting crazier with the carnage, finding a more spirited personality in the process. This “anything goes” attitude energizing the back half is what has kept the series strong, relevant, and able to creatively reinvent itself no matter its missteps.
As venerable fright film franchises go, only “A Nightmare on Elm Street” has been as fearlessly imaginative regarding its sequels. “Cult of Chucky,” like every “Child’s Play” movie before it, willingly does whatever it takes to feel fresh, please fans, and keep its own continuity in check while still taking risks to further the fiction. It doesn’t always work, and doesn’t always work within this sequel specifically, but the commitment to quality over cash grab is clearer here than perhaps any other horror series.
Meta humor breaks a few fourth walls in groan-worthy ways. We don’t necessarily need a Jennifer Tilly reference, or a “Hannibal” crack to leave us wondering when in the world Chucky had time to watch two seasons of a television series. On the whole however, “Cult of Chucky” comes out as a spooky, splattery scary movie with only enough self-aware satire to acknowledge how silly it is. If you’ve remained a happy passenger on the “Child’s Play” train through the highs and lows of the previous six films, your boarding pass is still good for an entertaining ride on “Cult of Chucky” too.
Alternate capsule review from a conversation with my girlfriend:
Me: “I saw ‘Cult of Chucky’ today.”
Me: “It was alright. Kind of silly.”
Her: “Well, that’s Chucky.”
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 75