Fantastic Fest 2022: LIVING WITH CHUCKY is Heartwarming Look at the Slasher Franchise

Like most during the pandemic I spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling through TikTok, and one account that was served up being a horror fan by the almighty algorithm, was a young woman’s feed by the name of Kyra Elise Gardner. It was clear right off the bat she was not your typical horror fan stan account, when I saw her videos that were filmed in what appeared to be a practical effects warehouse surrounded by Chucky dolls. As I fell down the rabbit hole of her feed, I discovered she was the daughter of Tony Gardner, who was the chief puppeteer for most of the Child’s Play Series. Kyra was using the app to get the word out about a doc she was working on, which was about not only the Child’s Play franchise as whole, but her dad’s work and the strange dynamic of having grown up with one the most notorious cinematic slashers.

Living with Chucky is a heartwarming deep dive into the history of Child’s Play, which centers on serial killer, Charles Lee Ray aka “Chucky” — who after being mortally wounded by police, used voodoo to put his soul in a 3 foot Good Guy doll. Each entry as the norm for these things had Chucky coming back and adding to his bodycount. These kinds of fandom docs are plentiful right now, simply because it’s an easy way to capitalize on a pre-existing audience and then incorporate those same folks into the doc you’re shooting — that being said, its not as easy as it sounds. What Krya brings to the table is not only her female perspective, which is appreciated in this sea of sausage of horror fandom, but her connection to the talent in front of her camera. While the first two acts are your more traditional talking head doc with a bit more of a laid back vibe, the third act is truly some of the most heartfelt work I’ve ever seen in one of these takes on a horror franchise.

Of course we get the answers hard-core fans might already know. But as someone who’s done more than my fair share of talent interviews, there’s a rapport and comfortability between Kyra and her subjects that usually is hard won, which gives this information a fresh and candid perspective. Kyra has interviews with ALL of the heavy hitters in this franchise and even some of its celebrity fans. It’s also immediately evident there’s not that weird super fan dynamic here you tend to get with these docs, instead there’s a kindness you can perceive in their interactions as she works her way through the franchise, film after film. It’s in the third act when she discusses Brad Dourif and his daughter Fiona’s relationship, and how they began sharing the role of Chucky that the camera literally pulls back in a Holy Mountain-esque move, to show Kyra’s father doing the sound under a table as we now are presented with two sets of fathers and their daughters.

After this doc breaks that fourth wall it goes super wholesome in the best possible way, and honestly moved me. Kyra pivots using the horror series to explore the families created by Chucky’s almost four decade long reign, both related and non-related. That change of tone is where this doc truly finds its voice and transforms into something remarkable. While its take on the films is as comprehensive and informative as one could expect, it’s through Kyra’s unique personal perspective that it gives us these unrehearsed moments and candid retrospective thoughts that we wouldn’t get otherwise. Living with Chucky a heartfelt and charming take on not only of one woman’s relationship with her father, but her mass murdering 3 foot tall red headed step brother as well.

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