The Child’s Play remake has been gearing up its marketing, and in its wake there is a whole lot of debate over whether or not this movie will be good or not.
Some of the debate comes from disappointment that Brad Douriff, the voice of Chucky for all seven previous films, will not be voicing the doll taken over by a killer this time. The studio has managed to dodge a bullet with their intriguing casting of Mark Hamill, but there are still those upset that Dourif, who is so iconic in the role, is not attached. Still others are equally upset that the studio, who owns the character, opted to continue the series with Don Mancini, the original creator, despite the fact that there was a recent film entry in the franchise and his is currently working on a tie-in TV series. This does seem to be a strange direction to take, though many are still excited to see what a new director can do with the character.
What I haven’t seen as much debate about is the fact that in this new version, Chucky is an AI. In the second preview, it is explained that the Buddi doll is not only your lifelike BFF, but it is attached to all of your household devices. While it remains to be seen if the remake will still have a serial killer inhabiting the doll or if it is a killer AI, the fact that there is not a lot of discussion about how technology has evolved in the time between the original and the remake just goes to show how accustomed we have all become to having technology as a regular part of our daily lives.
Maybe it’s the Xennial in me, but I still have a dose of skepticism in me when it comes to technology.
In the original Child’s Play, part of what made it so scary was the fact that the audience knew that NO ONE was going to believe Andy. Chucky, the monstrous killer inhabiting the doll, knew it to, and he used it to his advantage. Who would believe that a doll that runs on a couple of C-cell batteries would be capable of murder? No one. Dolls are an innocent plaything, and to an adult hearing the story, the fact that a child concocted a story about a red-headed plaything in overalls braining a babysitter with a hammer and then shoving her out the window would be the disturbing part. The fact that a doll was murdering people made no sense to the characters in the movie; the fact that Andy could be doing all of this was what horrified them. Similarily, for the audience, the idea that Chucky was continuing his work through the ultimate symbol of childhood was already creepy, but the concept that he was trying to get himself into ANDY’S body to continue murdering was even worse. If you want a good example of how disturbing this could have been, go out and watch The Prodigy. Ick.
Chucky, as a regular doll, was fairly inanimate. He wasn’t supposed to walk, but he talked. Seeing him moving around and hearing that creepy pitter patter of little feet as he shifted his way around the apartment just felt so wrong. With a doll that is intelligent though, is this really so hard to believe? I mean, in a recent promotional photo, little Andy is playing a board game with Chucky, for crying out loud. This is not your 80s doll.
It begs the question: what is the new Child’s Play aiming to scare us about? Will it be like the original, the question of what would you do if you were in Andy’s shoes, or even Karen’s? Would you believe your child?
The answer is no. In the 80s, of course you wouldn’t. Imaginary friends, children who need psychiatric help…these are things that are easier for us to wrap our head around. That suspension of disbelief and just embracing what is happening is something that horror audiences can do, but never the characters in them. At least, not until it is nearly too late. But technology? That is a different story.
Close your eyes and imagine it. A child has just come up to you, tugged on your sweater, and said, “My robot friend that is powered with a highly smart technology and is connected to all of the devices that control every aspect of my home and phone is acting weird. I think it might be killing people.” I don’t know that my response would simply be, “Kids will be kids,” or “What an active imagination.”
Full disclosure, I’ve read enough science fiction that I would be like, “TAKE ME TO IT AND WE’LL BURN IT IMMEDIATELY!”
The fact is that it’s not entirely science fiction anymore. At the end of 2016, consumer groups alleged that smart toys were recording children’s voices without parental consent. An Alexa device allegedly called police on its own during a domestic dispute, despite the fact that Amazon says that it is not part of its programming. In fact, so much could be done with JUST this aspect of the story that this film did not even need to be Chucky at all, really. And when you think about it, given the fan backlash, paired with the reveal of what this doll is going to look like, that may have been the better route for the studio. It could have been any doll. But nostalgia will bring people in, and it give the filmmakers an excuse to go absolutely bonkers with it; Chucky was never a shrinking violet when it came to kills.
My response to smart toys makes me wonder what it was like when battery operated toys came out, toys that could move and say more than just, “Mama!” when you pulled a string. Were people freaked out? Did people have the same amount of skepticism before they became a part of mainstream culture? We have always been on the lookout for the next cool thing, which is why we have eventually embraced technology, even if we don’t fully understand it. It is there, and we use it, but the average Joe has no clue how it works.
If the new Child’s Play can lean into and examine not only our dependence on technology, but our willingness to accept it and trust it no questions asked, it is possible that it may be able to create a fresh take on the original. Choosing to ignore this aspect would feel like a hugely wasted opportunity to make this remake truly scary. Thirty years is a long time in tech years; imagine what a Smart Chucky would be capable of. It will be interesting to see where the story goes.