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Many of the most terrifying horror ideas live through the eyes of children. Their innocence and curiosity is what pure evil monsters so often thrive off of while living under their beds and in the shadows of a dark room. Of course, what used to scare adolescents has changed with generations. These days, a majority of kids have access to breadth of information at their fingertips with technology such as tablet devices. It is through this lens that Jacob Chase's Come Play builds its horror story.
Come Play centers on a small family of three. Community’s Gillian Jacobs and Hush’s John Gallagher Jr. are tired and detached parents of Azhy Robertson’s Oliver, a young kid on the autism spectrum who struggles with speaking. He is being made fun of at school, has no friends and mom and dad are struggling with their own relationship and finding ways to bond with him. And he finds out he is being communicated with through various platforms on his tablet.
Back in 2017, Jacob Chase wrote and directed a five-minute short film called Larry, which has now bred into this first feature-length movie. Come Play captures the spirit of his original idea. Someone reads the creepy children’s story of a monster on a tablet alone before it crosses into a shared plane of existence with him. Chase’s directorial debut builds upon some provocative and entertaining scary ideas, while simultaneously feeling exhaustively formulaic.
Come Play has plenty of effectively scary sequences that make it worthwhile.
In its under two hours runtime the horror offering is a tight and concise movie that will give horror fans their fix of edge-of-your-seat moments. Jacob Chase especially has a good hold on the importance of sound that will send chills down your spine. There’s a number of memorable moments, specifically in the scare department, that will catch your eye and they make Come Play a worthy entry into the genre. The movie implements practical effects to showcase the character of Larry, the monster Oliver makes "friends" with on his tablet, and once his parents become aware of the hidden monster, terror grows within their household.
Come Play has some personality too. The narrative following an autistic kid who is struggling in school and his relationship with his parents brings a particularly touching element to the story and brings attention to the experiences of a community not often represented. Oliver also longs for connection but doesn’t know how. He spends hours on end on his tablet, making his connection to Larry palpable for viewers to understand. And its final moments will particularly play in your mind.
Come Play toys with some interesting concepts and commentary, but there’s something’s missing.
Jacob Chase has good intentions and heart to give with Come Play, but he doesn’t explore the concept enough to fulfill its potential. The idea of another world where a character like Larry can live and then come over to our own is enough to make one sit up and pay attention. Yet the movie never goes that necessary step further to have audiences become wary of their phone as the end credits roll. Come Play is too safe, sometimes to the point of being boring or predictable.
You’ll likely walk away from Come Play with a lot of questions, but the kind that leaves the audience going into circles that reveal the weaknesses of the plot.
The real bummer is horror fans have seen this before.
While Come Play technically has the puzzle pieces that one would imagine make it the horror film of the Halloween season in an overall particularly dry year for the genre, it manages to feel more like a rerun or tribute piece to Child’s Play and The Babadook. It shares many too-close-for-comfort elements with Babadook in particular. Come Play uses more world building than Jennifer Kent's movie does, by delving into the “why” of its monster, yet somehow the influence of the beloved modern horror film still overshadows it significantly.
Aside from building the circumstances of Larry and Oliver’s intriguing connection, the characters are given hollow arcs to work with. Disconnection between the story’s core family is a guiding hand in Come Play, but the dots don’t connect over this side of the screen either. Come Play works as a horror film, but not enough to meet the bar the genre has established for itself, and it creeps too loudly on the creaky floors of past films of its kind.