It’s been a very challenging “spooky season” in 2020. With most movie theater screens still dark due to the pandemic, fright fans have had to look for other avenues to get their thrills. Sure, Amazon and Blumhouse stepped up with their four-film anthology, and HBOMax dropped the family friendly remake of The Witches, but nothing beats sitting in a dark theater watching a good scary movie. One film is trying to make up for it by opening in theaters this weekend, and Come Play might fill a certain void for audiences, but it’s not without issues.
Come Play is the simple story of an autistic boy named Oliver (Azhy Robertson) who can’t speak and uses his device to communicate. He watches Spongebob episodes and exists in his own little bubble, oblivious to the struggles of his parents, Sarah and Marty (Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher, Jr.). Their marriage is falling apart, and that leaves Oliver isolated in long periods of loneliness.
When a monster named Larry suddenly appears in his device, first as the protagonist of a children’s story that instantly pops up on the screen and can’t be closed out, and later as a creepy physical manifestation, Oliver and his school pals find themselves in danger. The parents themselves are dragged into the struggle with Larry, leading to some tense moments.
Come Play is written and directed by Jacob Chase, who based it on his own award-winning short film, Larry. As Larry is the true star of the film, Chase knows how to milk the creature for every ounce of creepiness. The sound design is some of the best I’ve heard all year. Larry has a very unique sound when he appears, and it has stayed with me in the weeks since I watched the film.
What really drags Come Play down is the suspect casting of the parents. Jacobs is completely wrong for the role as the mother, especially since the climax of the story hinges on her performance. In a couple of very important lines that were written to make or break the story, she failed, and immediately dragged me completely out of the experience. And since it happens when Larry is at his scariest, her inability to sell the character of the mother almost ruins the film.
Gallagher’s Marty never materializes as a father, absentee or otherwise. The script’s insistence that the couple are in trouble doesn’t allow either adult to shape their characters, and they both come out as flat as the screen from which Larry hides.
Come Play works on some levels, but only as a throwaway “horror” film that will be forgotten a few days after watching. The elements were here to create a timeless and frightening story, one dealing with both the isolation of a technologically advanced world, and the over-dependence on our devices to connect to others. Unfortunately, it misses the mark and we’re left with a scary, well-designed monster character with some amazing sound design and not much else to support.
Come Play is PG-13 and is now playing in select theaters. Be sure to check local listings for engagements in your area.
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