As we discussed in our Child's Play episode, the Chucky franchise is a curious one indeed. It has consistently evolved and completely changed its focus to work with whatever trends it feels might yield the best results. This is all the more remarkable given that we are still working on the same continuity and it has all been shepherded by the same creative team.
With the seventh instalment, Cult of Chucky, we remain with the new storyline established in the latest reinvention, Curse of Chucky (2013), which re-established the franchise in a serious horror vein, and, while hardly breaking new ground in the genre, did it well. Cult of Chucky very much falls into that same camp, but this time takes a step further towards psychological horror. We follow on directly both in plot and tone and we find that film's hero/victim Nica, now interred in a mental hospital for the criminally insane.
The general theme of the film is the blurring of reality and delusion, with many of the characters suffering psychological conditions that mean they are never quite convinced of what is really happening. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never quite get to grips with this idea, and apart from a few nicely shot dream/hallucination sequences, it doesn't really add anything but confusion to an already unstable plot.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film suffers under the weight of its predecessors as we have add-on stories involving Andy, the now adult victim from the original film, and Tiffany/Jennifer Tilly from later in the series. The film itself doesn't even seem sure if it is actually Jennifer Tilly or the character played by Jennifer Tilly (and frankly I don't think it matters anymore).Neither of these elements adds anything to a plot that actually had a lot of potential if we had focused on the Nica character and allowed a bit more development of the new people surrounding her.
Where the plot is mainly a cipher to get us from one murder scene to the next, the end result is still pretty watchable. They have done a great deal with a small budget and this is an excellent example of how cheaper digital technology and alternative distribution platforms are beginning to give indie and low budget filmmakers a resurgence. The sets are stark and limited, but they use this to their advantage by creating an austere institutional look and highlighting the bare white walls as part of the visual style. There is also a lot of evocation of classic horror tropes and a couple of nods to other horror films. And unlike in previous films, here it feels like it doesn't overstep the mark.
Despite having made his living as a writer, Don Mancini is proving to have a deft touch with direction, both in visuals and with his handling of the actors. There are strong performances all round here from a mostly unknown cast; particularly impressive in a genre (and even a franchise) that is not known for it's subtle characterisation.
Lots of potential that is never quite realised but the Chucky franchise continues to surprise; 6/10