Directed By Jacob Chase
Starring – Gillian Jacobs, Azhy Robertson, John Gallagher Jr
The Plot – Oliver (Robertson) is a lonely young boy who feels different from everyone else. Desperate for a friend, he seeks solace and refuge in his ever-present cell phone and tablet. When a mysterious creature uses Oliver’s devices against him to break into our world, Oliver’s parents must fight to save their son from the monster beyond the screen.
Rated PG-13 for terror, frightening images and some adult language
– Sentimental horror. You rarely hear the two words together in the same sentence, but when you combine exceptionally articulated vulnerability with a hearty Mother/Son dynamic, you embrace the level of dramatic heft that the movie invests in with its characters and consequences. This is prominent throughout the film, primarily when Oliver’s newfound invisible friend begins to test and rip away at the seams of patience within his loving, supportive Mother, and we start to see their bond disappears through a series of lies and misunderstandings. However, the big payoff comes with a tension-filled finale that will inevitably tug at your heartstrings if your investment to these characters is as sturdy as mine was. It proves that horror is still the most expansive genre in film, and can accommodate a wide range of emotions if the stakes and circumstance work simultaneously hand in hand, a gift that Chase exploits time and time again within a family whose whole union has been built against the differences that persist against a world that constantly judges them.
– Passion project. There’s much to appreciate about the kind of hands-on direction from Chase, whose enthusiasm for the project began with a short film named “Larry”, and ended with this full-fledged psychological thriller with no shortage of unique identity to constantly maintain tension within his scenes. Right off the bat we get an unnerving sense of diversion from the movie’s photography, often choosing to frame characters in the corner of an angle, while leaving so much uncertainty within the background that dominates a majority of the depiction. It alludes to a red-herring that is actually used to soak up more of the ominously decadent atmosphere that he harvests continuously, and is only surpassed by a sound design that audibly conveys in heft and unorthodox noises what we rarely see from this sinister force named Larry. It proves that a lot of time and care went into the movie’s direction, and outlines Chase as yet another in the fresh faces of contemporary horror who refuse to phone in a single angle of a movie’s production, giving us a complete experience that immerses in the unfolding mayhem of what is constantly developing before us.
– Respectful. Not only is this an entertaining film, but also an educational one, full of experiences and commentary on the condition of autism, which is often misunderstood in the public eye. In this sense, the movie reveals more about us a society than it does its young jaded protagonist, and forces us to endure the missteps in treatment and misunderstandings that inevitably garner an empathetic quality for Oliver. It’s important that nothing ever feels meandering nor manipulative for our dissection, but beyond that it’s the first hand experiences with calming and communicating with this character that are most valuable, outlining a two against the world framing device that instills a lot of compassion for this traumatic disposition. It doesn’t necessarily beg us for pity or inequality in the face of the other supporting characters, but it proves that its unique character is much more than another framing device, and gives the movie a nourishing quality that transcends the fantastical elements of the screen.
– One big metaphor. That’s ultimately what “Come Play” is, but one that is surprisingly expansive the longer you get into the film. Aside from Larry and Oliver’s arc’s feeling intentionally synthetic throughout the beats of loneliness told in the fictional story inside of the film, the film itself is also a social commentary against electronics, and how we use these tools to calm and suppress these special geniuses, when in reality its care and compassion that they seek most. Building these subplots simultaneously is impressive enough, but when you consider the subtle preaching that the movie is deposing through attains a naturalistic and unobvious quality to the matters it is progressing through, it’s made all the more indulging because of such. It questions a series of ideals that has been put in place decades before this movie was even a thought in Chase’s head, and prescribes value in every scene that eventually leads to a brighter, vibrant picture in the minds of the audience experiencing it.
– Resilient performances. Gillian Jacobs easily gives the best performance of her young career, embodying a mom whose toughness and control only extends to the walls of the safe environment inside of the house that she has built for herself and her child. When they are torn down figuratively, it really allows Jacobs time to get lost in the identity traits of her character, and brings forth a series of dramatic heft and physicality for the actress that I honestly didn’t think she had in her before this film. I mentioned Jacobs first, however, because this is definitely Ahzy Robertson’s main event to steal, and it’s a heft that begins and ends with a transformation that left me completely spellbound. Robertson himself is not an autistic child in real life, so the way he moves his eyes or contorts his body in the vein of this character’s condition is riveting, and affords him the quality of saying so much despite physically saying very little throughout the film. It’s definitely one of the best child performances that I have ever seen in a film, and conjures up a level of professionalism for this ten year old that constantly maintains control of the film, and instills a performance that you can’t take your eyes off of. Truly astounding in regards to being decades in range ahead of his age.
– Serviceable special effects. While nothing exceptional or jaw-dropping in terms of consistency or attention to detail, the abundance of computer generation work here feels sturdy enough in prescribing a fine level of believability for the supernatural character, especially thanks in part to the absorbing sound design for the character that I previously mentioned. Because most of the scenes are filmed at night or within the darkness of this plagued house, it allows Chase and production the benefit of subduing a weakness and turning it into a positive, by keeping his screen time brief, and allowing the visual darkness to keep his design free of hollow articulation. His unorthodox movements work in the face of a monster that is otherworldly, and the bland, lifeless color scheme that envelopes his stature visually conveys the lack of inspiration that comes from a character who quite literally embodies the ideals of loneliness.
– Evolving characterization. Aside from the performances being exceptionally reputable here, the depth instilled to the abundance of characters, lead and supporting, gave the script plenty to lean in the face of pacing that was intentionally plodding. For the trio of leads, this easily feels like a real living, breathing family with their own histories that don’t necessarily require being fully fleshed out in exposition-heavy dialogue, and is instead clearly evident in the body movements and situations persisting within the house. Aside from them, there’s a group of boys that Oliver interacts with throughout the film that were initially one-dimensional bullies when they were first introduced, but matured into something much more during the film’s second half. With their own startling experiences with Larry, the boys serve as an air of much-needed optimism for Oliver, who up until this point has rode a downward spiral of depression and despair, which has defined him for the worse. These characters would usually be forgotten after being put through the ringer of what they didn’t initially see or believe, but Chase values their existence post-scare, and gives them pivotal meaning when the chips start to stack against Oliver.
– Stacking cliches. Even for a movie with as many positives as “Come Play” has, it still can’t help but indulge in a series of tiring tropes that have been done frequently throughout the genre, and done better. The first is obviously in its overabundance of jump scares, complete with easily telegraphed communication to the audience when one of these outbursts is coming. You know how it goes; the sound goes mute, the camera will look one way, and then startle us when it finds its way back to the character in frame. Aside from this, there’s no single scene or scare that was remotely memorable in contrast to the series of films that this material has derived from, nor is there anything about this supernatural antagonist that makes him stand out as anything compelling against a barrage of genre monsters. The film can’t even take the time to tackle where this thing even came from, or how it even attached itself to this family’s electronic devices. It just kind of answers everything with “Because it’s supernatural”, and that’s supposed to be good enough for the audience. Finally, the laundry list of stupid decisions by the parents attains a level of unintentional humor that often took me out of certain scenes, especially one of the Father in a toll booth, where he experiences the presence of Larry, and continues moving forward throughout his story despite the supernatural things taking shape surrounding him.
– Predictable. In addition to the cliches listed above, which are overwhelming for an 88 minute production, the script can’t escape this predictable encompassing that reaches peak altitude during the movie’s climax. Without spoiling anything, I will say that there’s very little wiggle room with how the movie’s final confrontation is set-up, and when you consider that ending it one way would completely alienate audiences, and leave the dejected from the film’s closing minutes, it only leaves one way that this all could possibly go. If you catch onto this immediately like I feel a majority of audiences inevitably will, then you will wait the entirety of the movie for this moment to take shape, and when it finally does it will make the supposed surprise feel all the more flat because of the way it’s telegraphed early on within the rules of the monster.
– Stretched idea. Because this idea stemmed from a short film from this producer, the movie’s sometimes stilted pacing can’t help but feel stretched at times, especially during a second act where the unnecessary scenes begin to pile up against the movie’s momentum. Even at 88 minutes, the screenplay doesn’t pertain enough material to smoothly spread across three acts, mainly taking around seven to eight strong scenes, and dividing them with an abundance of down time that unfortunately wore thin on my patience for breath in between the scares. One aspect that definitely could’ve used more fleshing out is the misunderstanding with a friend of Oliver’s that is resolved rather abruptly during the movie’s pivotal climax. I wish conflicts like this served greater meaning in the screenplay so they could better flesh out the backstories of these characters previously to the film, but its reach of creativity far exceeds its grasp of fulfillment when all is said and done.
My Grade: 7/10 or C+