The Child’s Play Reboot and Social Commentary

On July 1, I saw the reboot of the horror movie Child’s Play, inspired by a review I read in a Vancouver free daily newspaper.

I haven’t seen the original movie, but, from what I’ve heard and read, the doll Chucky came into being by way of a serial killer using voodoo to transfer his soul into a nearby doll. In the reboot, the dolls–one of whom become Chucky–are run by way of artificial intelligence; thus the reboot offers social commentary on how artificial intelligence is a double-edged sword, and, if humans aren’t careful, something like Terminator can become a reality.

Spoilers ahead

The movie comments on other aspects of society, however. Going into the theatre, I wondered why Chucky absorbed only the worst of human behaviour, when even actual children absorb the good and the bad. My mental question was answered practically at the beginning of the movie: In the Kaslan factory in, of all places, Vietnam (most factories for American corporations, in the real world, are in India, China, the Philippines, and various parts of Latin America), a supervisor verbally abuses, then fires, one of the workers, who then disables every function (including the ones that stop the doll he’s working on from becoming violent) in the AI tube going into the doll, and inserts it–all while displaying great relish in his actions–in a subtle comment on what happens when you treat the people who work for you like crap. Now, I understand that, in the real world, not all workers whose bosses abuse them develop sociopathic tendencies, but certain people, given enough reason, will turn on the world around them in their own ways and wreak havoc. And the Vietnamese worker in the Child’s Play reboot wreaks havoc–and how–via the last doll he worked on before he was turned out on his ear. This scene also comments, I believe, on First World corporations exploiting Third World labour.

Chucky is part of a line of toys called ‘Buddi’ dolls, whose tagline–given to them by the Kaslan Corporation–is ‘a friend to the end.’ Never mind the fact that, at some point, kids stop being kids and thus outgrow toys, and people, even children, can drift apart over time, for various reasons. Andy is a preadolescent in this movie, and initially doesn’t want a Buddi doll, but his mom, Karen, gets him one anyway, on impulse, possibly thinking the only consequence of doing so will be the doll collecting dust from never being used. Little did she know…

Karen and Andy are apparently new in town, and Andy clearly has trouble making friends–which changes after Karen gets him Chucky, as he befriends two of his neighbours, who get Chucky to curse (which, according to my memory, is the worst thing they do). But things go off the rails when Andy and his new human friends guffaw at a TV showing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, during which Chucky tries to kill the friends after seeing a scene from the movie; when Andy chastises him, he claims he was trying to make Andy happy.

And it doesn’t stop there. Andy hates his mother’s boyfriend, Shane–who is, to a degree, abusive (and who is also cheating on his wife with Karen)–and Chucky sees this as a licence to kill him. But Chucky doesn’t want Andy to have any friends beyond him, either–case in point Karen and Andy’s neighbour Doreen (whose son, Mike, is a cop), who Chucky eventually kills upon seeing camera footage of her, Mike, and Andy having dinner and hearing Doreen tell Andy he’s her new best friend after Andy shows her how to use a phone to order a car to take her to bingo night. As well, Chucky tries to turn everyone against Andy–by, in one instance, showing video footage of Shane’s decapitated head in Andy’s bedroom. Friend to the end, or possessive?

What I took away from the Child’s Play reboot–besides recognizing technology is a double-edged sword (as if I didn’t know that already)–are the possible social consequences of buying products from seemingly domestic businesses but which were actually manufactured in downtrodden foreign nations; the possible consequences of impulse shopping; and that some relationships can become toxic, especially if boundaries and ground rules aren’t established. The film also hammered home for me that pieces of popular culture–such as this movie–can, even unintentionally, serve as social commentary, disguised as entertainment.

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