When I first watched the trailer, I was intrigued. The trailer showed a little boy and a monster, a monster that wanted a friend. That might not sound scary but the initial small amount I saw made me think it would be a very interesting concept. I’m not normally big on scary movies but this film looked just the right type of creepy for me. It was every bit as haunting and creepy as I’d hoped with incredible special effects with an old-style concept of monsters.
Written and directed by Jacob Chase, Come Play features a young autistic boy, Oliver (Azhy Robertson), who harbors deep loneliness and encounters a villainous humanoid monster named Larry who is intent on abducting him. His parents, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) struggle to help their son communicate but as they have their own visits by Larry, they fight to save their son and prevent him from being stolen away to Larry’s world.
So many elements of this film work for me. One aspect is the way it blends a fairy tale style of story with modern technology and diversity. In fairy tales, the fairy can only steal away the child with some type of permission, either the child or the parents. And that is exactly what happens in this movie. But what makes it so intriguing is the way the monster is drawn to Oliver, with tablets and phones, by a little boy’s own inability to communicate with others and make friends. Being autistic isn’t new but having a character struggling with it in a horror movie is but the plot deals with it well and authentically. Oliver is not lesser, not unable, just different, and therein lies his difficulty with friends and family alike. That difficulty makes for an opening for Larry, the monster that begins to chase him through Oliver’s phone, tablets, and TV. And every screen Oliver sees is a window for the monster to use. That creates a very creepy factor and builds throughout the movie.
Those scary factors are exactly why the movie is so engaging. Rather than relying on jump scares and gore, “Come Play” relies on older styles, atmosphere, and the unknown. No one knows why Larry is haunting Oliver or exactly how dangerous the creature will end up being. But his relentless pursuit along with everyone else’s failure to protect Oliver is what makes it so spooky. Oliver uses intelligence and attempts to escape but he is failed by others not understanding him. And it truly is not his ability to communicate but others unwillingness or inability to listen to him that causes most of the problems, not just day to day but ultimately with Larry. It is frightening to be misunderstood and that is part of what makes this movie so haunting.
The other part of the story that really appealed to me was how each parent dealt with their son’s complexities. His mother tried her best to understand and get him assistance with language and the other skills he needed but struggled with listening to him and her own resentments. His father loved his son but was easygoing and unwilling to do the work to help in the full scope of what his son needed. Ultimately, this was not just a story about a monster but also about parental love and the sacrifices we are willing to make for our children.
While I love the story, the other reason I really liked this film is the special effects. The monster, Larry, is this elongated, almost humanesque form that is misshapen but still familiar and it is in the combination of the unseen and the seen that makes it so repellent. One of the reasons he’s scary is that you can’t see him except on the screen so on top of the design of the monster, there are also the effects when he is disrupting lights and moving objects that make the movie so compelling. He moves quickly and his abrupt movements on screen make for a creepier effect. The design team did a fantastic job realizing this monster and keeping him consistent throughout even when he emerges from his world to ours.
The acting is solid. Azhy Robertson as Oliver does a brilliant job, portraying both his fear of Larry and his character’s autistic traits. He does so authentically and intelligently. He never shows Oliver as incapable and frequently more capable of understanding than the people around his character. Gillian Jacobs as his mother does a solid performance as a mother stretched beyond her resources but also illustrating that love is in the details, in the ways we try to support children and in our sacrifices. John Gallagher Jr. is also solid in his role as Oliver’s father, humorous until the moment it’s not funny and caring. The other children and actors in the movie are equally good, adding complexity to their roles and understanding of the monster.
If there are any flaws, as with most monster movies, it is predictable. The monster is introduced quickly, so much so that it seems abrupt but as the movie continues, there is a reason for the quick start. But most elements of the movie can be quickly guessed at if you understand fairy tales and monsters. But the spooky atmosphere and fairy tale elements provide a decent creepy factor to the movie and the acting along with effects are fantastic.
If you love movies about mothers and sacrifice, if you like movies with diverse characters, then this is the scary movie for you. It features unusual characters, a well-designed monster with excellent special effects, and solid acting with a child actor that plays a smart child. Everyone is smart in the film. They try to escape the monster in smart ways and the solution is while simple, unexpected. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the theme of the film.
Rating: 4 out of 5 screens