I’m not much of an early adapter. The Husband and I don’t have the latest phones, laptops, or fitness-shaming devices. In keeping with that vein, we don’t usually go to see movies on opening night. But when we heard the directors of “It” were redoing “Child’s Play” with Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky, we knew we HAD to see it on opening night.
My fears of crowding on a new-release were thankfully unfounded; our theater was so empty that it didn’t matter that the (probably) stoned ticket vendor mistakenly gave us passes to “The Secret Life of Pets 2.” I did, however, want to shame the parents next to us who brought their preschool aged kids along. (If your kids are young enough to sit in your lap, then they are too young for an R-rated movie, in my not-so-humble opinion.)
As a recap: this movie follows the same basic story outline as the first: busy mom, lonely kid, accidental find of a very expensive doll. However, this version scraps the voodoo entirely; instead, Chucky is created when a disgruntled sweatshop worker produces a robotic doll without the normal pre-programmed behavioral constraints. To make matters worse, the dolls in this movie are designed to tap into the smart-home technology produced by Kaslan Corp., vis a vis home thermostats and speakers/screens. In this version, Andy and Chucky forge a friendship that quickly turns threatening when Chucky’s A.I. system misreads the boy’s unhappiness and social anxieties.
I have to say that I was more than a little impressed with the remake of Child’s Play. Where the first movie was good-time schlock with a bit of horror, this version managed a level of pathos not often seen in that genre. I took away two major fear themes from Child’s Play: (1) Fear of childhood innocence; and (2) Fear about our increasing reliance on autonomous technology.
The scenes where Chucky observes the kids’ fascination with horror films brings to mind those videos of children in former ISIS territory reenacting (and in some cases conducting) beheadings. The uncomfortable truth is that like children, A.I. does not have a robust moral core built in. Unlike children, A.I. cannot be expected to “mature.” This is not a new concern; vintage science fiction fans can remember Isaac Asimov’s famous “Three Laws of Robotics.” For as long as human beings have contemplated making computerized companions, we have also wondered: how can a being with intelligence but no animal empathy be made to understand basic moral tenets? How could they possibly be programmed to understand the social sub-contexts that lie under so many of our interactions? When Andy and his friends managed to shut Chucky down for the first time, I actually found myself feeling a bit of pity for the monster. It reminded me of putting down a rabid dog.
For the Luddites in the room: it was also interesting to see how the writers incorporated the developing concepts of smart-home technology and driverless cars in the kill fest. As I write this, autonomous vehicles are being tested in select cities around the world. As thrilling as the idea is to those of us ground down by daily commutes, there’s no shortage of concerns with this technology, specifically: how can it be programmed to make decisions? It doesn’t take a malfunctioning A.I. to generate casualties, after all. What will a computer do when forced to choose between hitting an animal or a small child, for instance? What if it misidentifies a variable in a traffic situation? Furthermore, who will take financial responsibility for road accidents in a world in which computers do all the work? However, such cut and dry questions are not exciting enough to put in a movie: enter Chucky the creepy ginger doll and his swinging knife.
The topic of movie remakes is always interesting to me because I like to see how a story is retold over time. Unfortunately, we’re usually disappointed by remakes, often because the writers are trying too hard. In this case, however, I can say the new “Child’s Play” makes or surpasses the original in its quality and writing. If you like your horror with a side of social messaging, this one is for you.