Review: 'Come Play' effectively blends technology with horror for spooky good time
Courtesy of Focus Features
An exercise in terror and suspense, Jacob Chase’s “Come Play” is the scariest movie since 2013’s “The Conjuring.” That’s not to say “Midsommar,” “Hereditary” and, most recently, “Possessor” aren’t scary, each have their own strengths but “Come Play” exemplifies how to blend social commentary on children and technology with nightmarish thrills for an unforgettable ride.
Originally based on Chase’s short film, “Larry,“ the horror filmmaker has been given a bigger canvas to harness his vision, but it’s never overpowering. The movie follows young Oliver (played by newcomer Azhy Roberstson), a shy autistic boy who constantly feels alienated by his peers at school, loves “Spongebob Squarepants,” and struggles with his speech. To help alleviate the burden, Oliver uses an app to piece together words and phrases he can’t sound out. Mom and dad (Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr) are on the rocks, and fuss about the correct way to raise their child. The former urges progress through therapy and social normalcy while the latter, often absent from daily life, coasts on fumes, usually seen as the savior with last second gifts he finds in the lost and found at work.
Oliver, like most elementary school-aged children, spends a good chunk of free time on his mobile devices, and when a random bedtime story about Larry pops up, the young lad can’t help but engage his curiosity. Except, in the process, he’s accidentally opened a portal for Larry, a gangly “Cloverfield” inspired beast from another dimension who lives behind our computer, phone, and television screens to come into our world and steal vulnerable children like Oliver because they’re easy targets.
The screenplay is a smart assertion on the state of play when it comes to younger children and their dependency on technology, especially in the world of 21st century schooling where laptops and phones aren’t optional but mandatory. So you can imagine how difficult it proves to outrun the skyscraper sized Larry who feeds on tech and the loneliness of misplaced children. Not to mention there are numerous terrifying sequences (watch out for dark and secluded parking lots) expertly crafted by Chase who understands imaginations are far more effective than plastered CGI dreck.
“Come Play” isn’t revolutionary in the same way “Insidious” or “It Follows” aren’t, it owns and retools the formula for maximum efficiency. Certain filmmakers lack the patience Chase demonstrates here, whereas some might go for the easy jump scare, he allows scenes to develop on their own, fostering palatable tension that’s effectively spooky. Yet underneath all the frights (and there are many) is an emotional journey about a mother trying to connect with her son, and a child trying to understand his place in the world. While these personal touches are often non-existent in generic horror thrillers, they're a welcome addition that Chase manages to sneak in amidst one of the scariest films of the year.
COME PLAY opens in theaters Friday, October 30th
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