Writer-director Jacob Chase has crafted an absolute gem with Come Play, a scary and surprisingly evocative tale that expands the world of his short film Larry. Blessed with a memorable performance from Azhy Robertson as a youth named Oliver, Come Play should generate enough solid buzz to place it high above the fray.
Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is an eight-year-old who communicates by typing on screens and using a voice app (he is on the autism spectrum). Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) loves her son with a fierce devotion, but she is also stressed beyond belief. Sarah and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) are in the process of separating, and she is letting a bit of that strain show by having her share of impatience with Oliver.
Marty, a parking lot attendant who is still a kid at heart, bonds with his son in a natural fashion while Sarah is left doing all the heavy lifting (she takes Oliver to a speech therapy class). Bullied by several kids in his class, one of whom is a former friend (Winslow Fegley), Oliver might be in need of a friend (who isn’t his parent).
Enter Larry, a mysterious figure who appears in a story called “Misunderstood Monsters” while Oliver is on his phone. Larry also wants a friend and targets Oliver as his next buddy. With the ability to travel to various electronic devices around Oliver’s domicile, Larry is obviously a danger to every single human within the area.
Writer-director Jacob Chase could have turned Come Play into a preachy tale about the disadvantages of technological dependance or crafted escapist fare that is littered with jump scares. Instead, he opts for simply telling the story in a tightly paced, organic fashion. The scares that I received from Come Play were generated from Chase letting a scene breathe and evolve (the parking lot sequences with Gallagher Jr. are terrifying). The final act, a total nail biter, surprised me all the way to the knockout of an ending.
Come Play’s resonant nature originates from Chase’s focus on showing characters who, though flawed, are trying their best to learn from their mistakes and move forward. The final moment of the feature makes great fodder for movie conversations, as there will be a huge division on its efficacy (it absolutely worked for me).
Horror enthusiasts should be warned that, although this movie has its share of scares, it is ultimately a finely tuned and emotional family drama. Overblown creature feature elements, gore, and jump scares are not part of Come Play’s aesthetic, so don’t be expecting a Dario Argento or John Carpenter experience.
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Jacob Chase cites Mike Nichols, Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg (Amblin Partners is one of the film’s producers) as directors he admires, and my guess is he branches out to explore different genres. But first thing’s first; Come Play hits all the right buttons, and in these times of sheltering in place, having a friend like Larry is an all too enticing prospect.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 *****
Come Play hits theaters October 30.
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