The original Child’s Play may have taken its first bow nearly thirty years ago now, but the franchise is still very much alive and kicking thanks to writer, co-creator and now director, Don Mancini. This latest, the seventh in the overall continuity, is easily one of the better and most lively of the series too, taking its main inspirations from 2013’s well-received Curse of Chucky and keeping things fairly straight-forward. There’s nothing overly new here, and the unassimilated are unlikely to find much reason to use Cult as a jumping on point, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had, for sure.
Following almost directly on from Curse, Fiona Dourif’s disabled victim Nica finds herself transferred to a mental hospital where it takes precisely no time at all for the much loved Chucky doll to resurface. And although at first, Nica begins to doubt her own sanity when a second (and eventually, a third) version of the doll appear at the totally remote facility, when the expected blood-letting kicks into play, it becomes another tooth-and-nail fight for survival.
The more comedic vibes of the later instalments certainly carries over, and Brad Dourif’s always edgy delivery of Chucky’s best lines is still very much spot on after all these years. But there’s definitely much more of an effort from Mancini to return to the series’ horror roots here too. The slasher-happy antics have much more of an even menace to them, there’s a handful of well-sprinkled jump-scares and the plot-itself is just bendy enough to keep the tension levels ramped up high. Even the setting alone; a largely abandoned psychiatric hospital shrouded in monochrome, and forever in the middle of a blizzard, gives Cult an almighty boost in the creepiness department.
Not everything’s quite as merry as it could be though. Certain fan-service nods don’t get quite the development they deserve. Jennifer Tilly’s returning Tiffany for one ends up feeling just a little bit random until the finale’s final stinger, and Alex Vincent’s Andy Barclay (the original actor from the original trilogy) pops up again without an awful lot to do. The most overbearing issue here though all-in-all is budget, or really, the lack of one. Chucky movies have always been fairly niche, and Mancini and original effects man Tony Gardener have clearly gone out of their way to keep the practical spirit of the originals alive, which is great. The only issue being they seemed to run out of money to actually finish the movie in the process.
After blasting its way through plenty of tight tension and genuine surprises (not to mention some of the most gruesome deaths in the series’ history), Cult ultimately just seems to end totally out of the blue. The final note itself is a great one, but the crescendo that comes before it just feels muted, like there’s a missing act just before the credits roll.
All-in, Cult of Chucky expands the mythos beautifully, and throws the franchise in a truly promising direction, but it definitely lacks the final nail needed to make for the killer self-contained thriller it seems to be building towards. Fans will be anything but disappointed, and while casual Chucky-goers and non-converts alike will likely find the violence and spot-on scripting here enough to chew on, it’ll likely feel like a fairly damp affair by the time the finale shows up.