REVIEW: “Cult of Chucky”

And now, we reach the end of the Chucky franchise—until this fall’s TV continuation, of course. If 2013’s Curse of Chucky was a soft reboot, then 2017’s Cult of Chucky is a celebration of the franchise. Combining elements from all three eras of the Chucky franchise, Cult of Chucky takes the best parts of the series and turns them into something new. Acting as less of a finale and more of a prelude to future stories, Cult of Chucky is a promising look into the future of the Chucky franchise. Once again led by a captivating performance from Fiona Dourif, a bonkers-yet-entertaining storyline, an atmosphere to die for, and many creative kills, Cult of Chucky is a deeply enjoyable watch. (4 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review contains spoilers.

Cult of Chucky
(written and directed by Don Mancini)
Chucky returns to terrorize his human victim, Nica, who is confined to an asylum for the criminally insane. Meanwhile, the killer doll has some scores to settle with his old enemies, with the help of his former wife.

Everything I said about 2013’s Curse of Chucky remains true here. Cult of Chucky has no right being this good. I mean, it’s the seventh film in this franchise! And yet, it’s an absolute delight from start to finish. Cult is less restrained than Curse, but with that lack of restraint comes a more complex narrative, somehow taking all of this franchise’s disparate elements and combining them into a cohesive whole. Once again, the pacing is excellent, with that feeling of tense dread present from the film’s beginning, and only growing in severity as the narrative progresses. This time around, there’s a greater balance of likable characters and unlikable ones, though the unlikable ones are somehow even more unlikable here. Which, to be fair, does make it quite satisfying when they inevitably die.

As far as the plot goes, it begins simply enough. Four years after Curse, Nica finds herself transferred to a medium-security psychiatric hospital, still serving time for the murder of her family—a crime she didn’t commit. During that time, her doctor, Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault), has managed to convince her that she’s responsible for her family’s deaths, not Chucky (Brad Dourif). But, of course, as Nica gets settled at the hospital, the killer doll himself shows up and begins wreaking havoc, leaving enough clues at the scenes of each crime to suggest Nica might be the one responsible. But, of course, she’s not.

Meanwhile, Andy (Alex Vincent) and Tiffany Valentine (Jennifer Tilly) both have Chucky dolls of their own. Andy is still torturing the doll that arrived at his house at the end of Curse, while Tiffany delivers a second Chucky doll to the psychiatric hospital. And that’s where the titular “cult” comes into play. While you might be tempted to think a “Cult of Chucky” would refer to a group of humans worshipping Chucky, you’d be wrong. Instead, the cult is quite literally a group of Chucky dolls, all sharing the soul of Charles Lee Ray. And that’s such a fascinating idea, and one that the film plays up to its most extreme extent. I mean, if Chucky can split his soul into as many different bodies as he wants, why not have some fun with that?

Character-wise, Nica is still the star of the show. It helps that we got to know her quite well in Curse of Chucky, so we’re already on board with who she is and what her story is. Instead of spending a bunch of time getting to know her, we’re allowed to get to know the supporting cast a bit better. And sure, most of them end up being fairly standard psychiatric hospital stereotypes, but it’s fun seeing how each character’s dynamic clashes with Nica’s. It forces Nica out of her comfort zone, and into these grayer areas—which Fiona Dourif luxuriates in. Here, Nica is simultaneously more vulnerable than ever while also being stronger than ever. And the culmination of her character arc in the film’s climax gives Fiona Dourif the room to have a lot of fun. And that fun is quite infectious.

All of this is only possible because Cult doesn’t waste time with exposition. Instead, it just gets the ball rolling as quickly as possible—a decision that greatly benefits the film. Every time a legacy character is brought in, Mancini just (correctly) assumes the audience knows who they are, whether or not the characters on screen do, which leads to a lot of fun moments. For example, the first time Nica and Tiffany meet, the audience knows exactly who Tiffany is and that she shouldn’t be trusted in the slightest. But Nica and Dr. Foley don’t know that, and that little bit of dramatic irony adds an immensely enjoyable layer to the film. The same rings true for when Andy and Tiffany interact and when Andy and Nica interact. There’s something so joyous about seeing these characters from all of the different eras of the Chucky franchise interacting with one another, and it’s probably what I’m most excited to see in the upcoming Chucky TV series, too.

Continuing the trend begun in Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky primarily takes place in a single location—a medium-security psychiatric hospital. And this setting is every bit as effective as the creepy gothic house in Curse. The way the blindingly white, pristine hallways clash with the film’s darker lighting makes the movie almost feel like a black-and-white film. Nearly every color is desaturated—except for red. Every time there’s any red onscreen, it immediately pops. Whether it’s red lipstick, a red dress, or the deep red of blood. And it creates some quite gorgeous visuals. The house in Curse of Chucky felt claustrophobic, but this psychiatric hospital somehow feels even more claustrophobic. Perhaps it’s down to the nature of the characters quite literally being locked in this building. They can’t escape, so they really are just sitting ducks, waiting for Chucky to get to them. And Mancini plays with the natural tension that springs from that in such an enjoyable way. It’s quite palpable, actually.

And the kills—oh man, the kills. You can tell that Cult of Chucky was made after Mancini worked on NBC’s Hannibal show. The influence is immediately obvious. So much about Cult of Chucky feels quite operatic—the score, the setting, and especially the kills. It’s not like the Chucky franchise has ever been a stranger to over-the-top kills, but these hit a little differently. They’re not played for laughs, and they’re not necessarily scary. But they’re filmed and presented very similarly to the way Hannibal presented its violence. And it makes for an interesting direction for this franchise to take. There’s almost a beauty to what’s being shown here. Now, to be sure, it’s not all pretension. There’s plenty of Chucky-style head smashes and stabbings and all of that’s great. But my favorite kill might just be the one involving shards of a shattered glass ceiling raining down on a character. It was this perfect mixture of visually gorgeous and skin-crawlingly upsetting. Good stuff. And the move is just full of moments like that.

All in all, Cult of Chucky is quite a good addition to the franchise. It manages to bridge the gaps between the series’ different eras so well that you don’t even realize that’s what’s going on at first. Getting to see Nica, Tiffany, and Andy interact with each other is such a delight, and the dynamic that Fiona Dourif and Brad Dourif have with each other continues to be so captivating. Without spoiling the end of the movie, I just love the way Fiona Dourif is able to go completely feral with Nica, and I can’t wait to see that continue playing out in the Chucky TV series.

It’s not a perfect movie, though. I wish there’d been a little bit more done with the idea of a “Cult” of Chucky, rather than just having it be multiple Chuckys. And the film doesn’t really have a conclusion. Instead, it ends on a cliffhanger that’s clearly meant to set up a sequel. But, the fact that we are getting that sequel through the Chucky TV series takes the sting off of that a little bit. If you’re a fan of Chucky, you’ve probably already seen this movie. But it’s still an immediate recommendation for me. I had such a good time with it.

4 out of 5 wands.

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