Pop Culture

Reviews For The Uneasily Quarantined:
Come Play

Title: Come Play

Describe This Movie In One Carly Rae Jepsen Quote:

CRJ: Is this too much?

Brief Plot Synopsis: Needy monster meets special needs kid.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3 unwanted phone calls out of 5.

Photo by Pete Vonder Haar
Tagline: "He's good at taking friends."

Better Tagline: "iBabadook"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) are doing their best to raise their autistic son Oliver (Azhy Robertson), but the normal pressures of dealing with marital stress and a differently-abled child pale to insignificance when an extra-dimensional creature takes an interest in the boy.

"Critical" Analysis: There's moment late in Jacob Chase's Come Play (which he adapted from his own 2017 short film) where the autistic Oliver experiences the equivalent of a miraculous developmental breakthrough. It's a plot convenience, and mostly laughable. And yet, the movie can't be entirely written off.

You gotta feel for Chase, who had no idea back in 2017 that A) the idea of electronic devices threatening our children would be less a fictional horror construct than an everyday ordeal, and B) that seven months and change into a pandemic, weary parents might seriously consider trading their kids to fell denizens of the shadow realm for a little peace and quiet.

The creature "Larry" is introduced immediately (via an unintentionally hilarious POV shot from inside Oliver's phone) and makes his unwelcome presence felt in the form of an ebook ("Misunderstood Monsters") dropped unsolicited on the various family devices like a U2 album.

Events proceed apace. Oliver is nonverbal, but high-functioning, which is still not enough to deter certain shitty bullying kids who magnify Oliver's loneliness, giving Larry his access point. These same kids are reintroduced for a slumber party that brings Larry further into their world and inadvertently portrays Sarah as the worst mother of all time. Seriously, if you can sleep through four children screaming bloody murder, maybe invest in some goldfish.

The scares in Come Play aren't exactly groundbreaking: Larry can only be viewed through a phone or tablet camera, which is a pretty nifty excuse to go low on the F/X budget (although there is one scene involving blowing newspapers in an eerily empty parking lot that's reminiscent of The Invisible Man).

But Larry just wants Oliver to be his friend. The creature's mythology is hazy, and without getting into spoilers, doesn't really add up when everything shakes up at the end. Ignoring all that, Larry's approach would be more successful if he portrayed himself as, say, a pug or a unicorn instead of as a necrotic Slenderman.

To their credit, Sarah and Marty figure things out with stunning rapidity, and Come Play hits on issues of parental isolation and guilt (Sarah worries she waited too late to address his issues; Marty works odd jobs and isn’t home much), which makes them both susceptible to second guessing themselves, even when a monster is targeting their child.

Using special needs kids in horror movies, especially autistic ones, feels ... cheap; as if the mere presence of a child is no longer enough to engender dread or even sympathy. However, as Come Play progresses, the real theme revealed itself. By using "Larry" as a metaphor for Oliver's loneliness, Chase really shows us the parents' true horror: that there will eventually be no one to look after their children.

Come Play is now playing in select theaters.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar