Come Play

Come Play

2020, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Jacob Chase. Starring Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Oct. 30, 2020

We've become accustomed to ghosts in the machine, but monsters lurking within our electronic crutches are a slightly newer concern. Ever since The Ring, creatures have become pretty adept at slinking in behind our screens, which is where we meet Larry. The twisted, slimy, sinewy, skeletal beast lives within your phone, and just wants a friend. He's decided that it will be Oliver (Robertson), a young boy with profound autism who communicates through an app on his phone. Already insulated from the world, Larry sees him as a perfect target to be his forever buddy, and is quite prepared to go through his estranged parents, Sarah (Jacobs) and Marty (Gallagher Jr.) to get him.

Horror is built on moms wanting to protect their kids, and Come Play falls down because Sarah just never really seems to connect with Oliver. Robertson really communicates the frustrating isolation of living with autism, and the film works best when it concentrates on him more, and Sarah less. Jacobs plays her more like a babysitter or nanny than a parent torn up by her dedication to her kid: not that she's solely to blame, because the script forces some bizarre decisions on Sarah, who jumps into believing Oliver's tall stories too fast and then makes a third act choice that feels unearned. Horror fans will recognize the nod to a modern Japanese classic, but Chase's script does too little of the groundwork for it to make the emotional logic required. In short, you won't buy it, especially since a tacked-on coda undercuts that very moment. Characters doing something dumb and then kinda, sorta getting away with it for a happy-ish ending is never how a film should end. Chase even has a big point to make about how our devices have left us more disconnected than ever but it's so obvious, and so unsubtly presented, that it slows the story to a crawl.

Yet while this amusement ride is in motion, it's pretty chilling and thrilling. The smart use of smart devices and filters add some ingenious scares, and Chases reimagines his original 2017 shirt "Larry" as one of the most effective sequences, with Oliver and his dad trapped in the toll booth where Marty spends his nights. Surrounded by darkness, they seem secure from Larry's interests and attacks, but with the ubiquity of screens he's always got a point of entry. Even that scene pales by a deeply unnerving sleepover where Oliver's classmates make the mistake of looking into the shadows while Larry starts looking back.

Those scenes are so creepily executed that they almost lift Come Play above the library of mediocre supernatural monster chillers like The Bye Bye Man and Slender Man, films that come and go while barely disturbing your dreams. But this high-tech reinvention of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, complete with its monster POV shots, doesn't have the heart to make yours really skip a beat.

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Come Play, Jacob Chase, Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright

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