Come Play takes specter of too much screentime to the extreme
It wouldn’t be Halloween without another horror movie to deliver the scares of the season. Aficionados can turn to Shudder, a horror movie subscription service, and Amazon Prime Video has partnered with Blumhouse Productions for some new exclusive movies, but the new film Come Play is the only one coming to theaters on Halloween weekend in this scary year.
Set in a nondescript city/suburb, the film focuses on Oliver (Azhy Robertson), an autistic boy whose sole means of communication is an app on his smartphone. The electronics soon turn against him, though, as a creature named Larry tries to entice Oliver through a story told on the device.
Oliver’s parents, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher, Jr.), are experiencing marital troubles, not least of which is their opposing ways of handling an autistic son. The creature seems to sense Oliver’s troubled home life and his lack of friends at school, using those issues against him as it tries to make its way from behind screens to the real world.
Written and directed by Jacob Chase, who adapted his own 2017 short film Larry, the film uses and comments on its modern trappings well. Many parents these days worry about the amount of time their kids spend staring at screens, so having that technology not only represent evil but be evil is a clever twist. In the case of this film it’s doubly so, as the communication app is a godsend for Oliver and his parents, and having the device turn against them is extra upsetting.
Modern as it is, the film also pays homage to films like Poltergeist or The Ring, with the horror coming from within the screen being watched. Chase also uses flickering lights throughout the film, a horror movie staple he employs to great effect to indicate the presence of creature. It’s a seemingly simple technique, but the way lights go out one after the other in this film is especially creepy.
Whoever devised the creature and sound design deserve plaudits, as each elevates the spookiness of the film. Chase makes the right decision and only gives brief glimpses of Larry, but each time is more than enough to understand how terrifying he is. Likewise, the sound of Larry’s voice and movements are a series of creaks and pops that would be chilling for anyone, child or not.
One of the biggest things the film has going for it is having Oliver as its protagonist. Even being mostly non-verbal, Oliver is a perfect proxy for the audience, as everybody can relate to being scared as a kid. When the film turns its attention toward adults being scared of Larry, it’s not nearly as effective.
Appropriately, it’s Robertson who makes the biggest impact on the film. He sells every moment with the monster extremely well, and his scenes with fellow kid actor Winslow Fegley are some of the best in the film. Jacobs and Gallagher are normally reliably good, but their reactions to the threat of Larry leave a lot to be desired.
While not as scary as it could have been — its PG-13 rating ensures that — Come Play is a solid outing that more than fits the bill for anyone looking for a few Halloween thrills. Just make sure to turn off your device before watching.
Come Play is playing exclusively in theaters.