‘Come Play’ Review
Hopes are always high this time of year for a creative new horror film. As each Halloween approaches, we search for new movies that will frighten us in an entertaining way, or at least be creepy enough to make us sleep with the lights on! Looking to be this year’s horror breakout, writer-director Jacob Chase has expanded his own 2017 5-minute short film Larry into a full-length feature film.
Azhy Robertson (the young son in Noah Baumbach’s Oscar-nominated Marriage Story, 2019) stars as Oliver, a dead-ringer for Danny Torrance in The Shining (1980). Oliver is an autistic, non-verbal boy who has no friends and depends on his electronic devices to communicate and entertain (he loves “SpongeBob SquarePants”). His parents, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs, “Community”), and Marty (John Gallagher Jr., Short Term 12, 2013) constantly argue, which exacerbates Oliver’s hypersensitivity. When Dad moves out, an overwhelmed mother does her best to follow the advice of Oliver’s therapist. What she doesn’t know initially is that some being or creature named Larry is tracking her son through an online story called “Misunderstood Monsters” that pops up on his mobile devices.
“Larry just wants a friend.” As the story slowly unfolds on the tablet Oliver’s dad found in the lost-&-found in the parking lot booth where he works, we come to understand exactly what is happening, and who and what Larry really is. The theme has some similarities to Jennifer Kent’s excellent film, The Babadook (2014), with a dose of The Ring (2002), but the suspense never builds to that level despite a nice performance from young Mr. Robertson.
A clever twist actually ends up lessening the fright factor here. The monster can (mostly) only be seen via mobile devices, which means the visuals are often limited by the size of the screen, although I’m a fan of the practical effects. Because of this, sound effects are critical, as are the reactions of Oliver and his parents…as well as the classmates unfortunate enough to get volunteered for a sleepover.
It seems only fitting that in 2020, loneliness is the real monster, and technology is the conduit for its impact. Additionally, all parents will relate to the extremes Sarah and Marty go to protect Oliver, and the final scene does offer an all-knowing moment that reverts to a simpler time…one that Larry wouldn’t appreciate.