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Cult of Chucky
Chucky's last victim, Nica Pierce, was left at his crime scene all by her lonesome. She tried to convince people that the doll, possessed by the soul of Charles Lee Ray, had been responsible, but nobody found that to be an amusing anecdote. Not the police, not the judge, and certainly not the mental institution she was sent to. After four years of staring at white walls and talking to shrinks, Nica now believes she's responsible for murdering her family, that Chucky was merely a manifestation of her psychosis. Quite the breakthrough, Dr. Foley transfers her to a medium security institution. Now that she's allowed to mingle with others, she makes the acquaintance of some ‘interesting' people who've done terrible things to wind up in this cuckoo's nest, but believing Nica to be a mass murderer, turn their backs on her. To reduce this tension, Dr. Foley brings a Good Guy doll to group. Needless to say, some terrible things begin to happen, and while that's all par for the course in this franchise, there's now multiple Good Guys running around. What in the Mighty Damballah is going on?
I'm sort of torn on how I feel about this movie. On the positive side of things, Cult of Chucky does two things very well: fan service, and more importantly, it keeps you guessing.
I think everyone who's ever had an ounce of appreciation for Child's Play will be thrilled to see what Alex Vincent does with his reprisal of Andy, who has clearly spent years preparing for Chucky's return. Unfortunately, those years haven't been kind to Andy. His past as ‘the boy who cried doll' follows him wherever he goes, to the point where he has no semblance of a personal life. He's found ways of coping with that, though, and you'll have to trust me when I say it's a crowd pleaser.
I wish Alex would have been able to share a bit of screen time with Fiona Dourif, though. Her character, Nica, is probably the most intriguing lead since… well, Andy. She's a fantastic actress, and as a woman who's struggling to figure out why the line of reality has been so drastically blurred, she knocks it out of the park. The only downside to her presence in this film is that her supporting cast mates (in the medium security institution) really pale in comparison.
Brad Dourif, who's been playing the role of Chucky for nearly thirty years, still delivers the Good Guy's ‘burn the world, but have fun doing it' attitude without a hitch. If I hadn't seen him acting in other projects over the years, I would have swore he never left the recording booth!
Don Mancini deserves a tip of the hat, too, because frankly, I'm stunned he's managed to twist the story in such a way to keep the franchise fresh. Other horror franchises, as fun as they are, seem content just resting on their laurels and, more or less, delivering the same content over and over again. But with Chucky, this director - who has been heavily involved with each installment - keeps finding new angles in which to present him. Having him run amok in a mental hospital is a nice change of pace, but more than that, we finally get to see him operate from a true position of power. What he's discovered not only spins this movie in a new direction, but promises to change the face (or faces?) of the franchise from here on out.
But these new ideas also double as negative talking points.
While the ideas are fresh, their foundation is rickety, and that's being kind. Did Chucky have to go on some fantastical journey to finally gain the upper hand? Did he have to kill someone in a position of power? No, he didn't even have to bump off a liquor store. All he did was a little sleuthing on the internet. That's probably the laziest explanation the director could have come up with. The one-liners aren't nearly as creative as the film itself, which is a shame because Chucky's always been good for some quotes. The focus of this film is still decidedly horror, but overall, the comedy can be a bit much. There's one scene in particular which reeks of amateur vaudeville.
But my biggest beef with our friend til' the end is that he can't seem to go anywhere without Tiffany anymore. I love Jennifer Tilly and all, and her brief stint in Curse was appreciated, but I don't think her character is interesting enough to be carried along for the ride anymore. Unfortunately, when the primary star is a doll which can't get around without drawing a lot of attention, there has to be a ‘normie' who has the advantage of pulling strings in plain sight. Marriage vows specifically say ‘til' death do us part', and the Chuckster has fulfilled his end of the bargain. Cut the poor guy loose already!
Last but certainly not least, I wasn't a fan of the ending. It only promises that the next film, if and when it ever gets made, will be even crazier, and I'm not sure Mancini can pull it off without plunging the series back to a place which fares better with a laugh-track.
Taking the good with the bad, Cult of Chucky has some positive takeaways but never reaches its full potential, as it ultimately collapses under the weight of its own ambition. It's a decent installment all the same, but it could have been so, so much better. Chucky works best when he's alone and isolates his victims one-by-one. Sure, I appreciated Bride of Chucky for saying, "Hey, we know we can't take this seriously forever, so let's have a bit of fun!" But Cult of Chucky refuses to lean one way or the other, instead straddling the line between both sensibilities. Granted, it's not nearly as comical as Bride or Seed, but the gags here are a bit much and provide this film with something of an identity crisis. It's too bad, because Curse of Chucky didn't have this problem. I was hoping the director would have continued to exercise some restraint in Cult, but it's like he just can't help himself.
Still, don't let these comments deter you from at least experiencing Cult, which is easy enough if you have access to Netflix, as it appeared on the streaming platform the same day it hit retail shelves. This film has been extremely divisive - some call it the best in the franchise while others loathed it - but I enjoyed it for what it was. Sure, I'm concerned about the implications of its ending, but I'm not going to worry about that now. The concept of multiple Chucky's roaming around is cool, and I love how the mental institution angle makes us wonder if Nica really did go crazy. The kills are pretty satisfying, too. In fact, they're a bit gorier than what we saw in the last outing, so genre fans should be pleased. Not bad, not great, but I enjoyed it enough to revisit in the near future.
Aesthetics aside, there's really nothing wrong with the disc's technical presentation. The white backgrounds don't give way to encoding issues. There's a little bit of noise from time to time, but it seems inherent to the source. Black levels go quite deep, although there's times where they can be murky, too. Again, I attribute this to the source. There's plenty of fine detail on display, the image sharp as a tack, and there's no edge enhancement or other digital anomalies to worry about. It's easy to expect home video releases to be of lesser quality than theatrical endeavors, but that's not the case here, and you can buy with confidence.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's been included surprised me a bit. Considering the ‘clean slate' setting we're treated to visually, I expected the sound design to echo the same effect, to be muted more than vibrant. I was wrong, though, because there's enough environmental ambience to keep us enveloped throughout. Effects blend in to the entire mix well regardless of what channel they're coming from. They don't stand out, but blend, as they should in all soundtracks (envelopment is about believing you're there, not showing your home theater off to your friends). Dialogue is always clean and well prioritized. The more gruesome effects and score culminate in the film's loudest moments, which again, contrast well against the film's sterile design. Fans shouldn't walk away disappointed with this one!
The supplemental package leaves much to be desired. However, this package, as outlined below, seems par for the course these days. Studios aren't about to spend money on a bunch of extras for a bunch of people who won't watch them. More and more, people have turned to the convenience of digital streaming and downloads; they just want to absorb their films and move on. They're certainly not going to go all out for a direct-to-video horror flick. There are some good takeaways here, but it's mostly fluff pieces. The only thing really worth paying attention to is the audio commentary, as it's entertaining and chock full of information.
-Inside the Insanity of Cult of Chucky
-Good Guy Gone Bad: The Incarnations of Chucky
Cult of Chucky begins by balancing creativity, gruesome scares, and lots of great fan service, but the later we get in the film, the more those ideas actually begin to hurt more than they help. Still, it's not a bad film. Having Alex Vincent and Fiona Dourif in the same flick is a real treat, and watching how everything plays out until the final act is entertaining enough. And to its credit, I can't think of too many horror franchises which have installments anywhere near this strong on their seventh outing. Fans of the Chuckster will want to pick this up no matter what, and when it comes to the disc's A/V presentation, it's about as pristine as the format can get. Recommended.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!