Entertainment » Movies

Review: Clever Horror Film 'Come Play' Confronts Loneliness in a Connected Age

by Megan Kearns
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Oct 30, 2020
Gillian Jacobs and Azhy Robertson in 'Come Play'
Gillian Jacobs and Azhy Robertson in 'Come Play'  

Loneliness feels overwhelming and all-consuming. We all yearn for friendship and connection, especially as children. Based on his short film, Jacob Chase wrote and directed horror film "Come Play," about an autistic boy, Oliver (Azhy Robertson, who's great in "Marriage Story"), and his parents, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.). The family is terrorized by a monster via electronics and electronic devices.

The film immediately plunges us into the tense narrative. Oliver sees a book appear on his phone: "Misunderstood Monsters, A Children's Story." He reads that a monster, named Larry, is mocked for being different and "just wants a friend." Lights go out. The closed bedroom door opens. Oliver barricades the door with toys. It bursts open; he screams. When Sarah enters, Oliver, who's nonverbal, uses a phone app to choose pictures corresponding to words. He says, "Something in house."

Oliver doesn't have friends, and a few kids bully him. Sarah is an attentive mother who blames herself for not taking Oliver to the doctor sooner.

With its scary children's storybook frightening a family, a sensitive child, and a frazzled mother, "Come Play" parallels Jennifer Kent's brilliant horror film "The Babadook." It's also reminiscent of "Paranormal Activity" in looking through a camera, as well as "Aliens," tensely utilizing a device tracking distance of people — or monsters.

Sarah Ferber created the eerie artwork for "Misunderstood Monsters." The Jim Henson Workshop created the creepy and menacing-looking creature Larry with his skeletal limbs and hulking, arched back. Maxime Alexandre's clever cinematography frequently shows characters in the foreground while unnerving occurrences transpire in the background, heightening tension and unease. At times, we see behind a phone or tablet screen. The film effectively utilizes silence to induce dread.

"Come Play" is a tense horror film with clever cinematography about a monster terrorizing a lonely boy

In my favorite scene, Marty works overnight in a parking lot booth. The wind blows flyers in the background, which stick onto the shape of an invisible figure. It's fantastic, subtle, and unsettling. Chase's additional scenes in the booth are particularly riveting. Throughout the film, phones and TVs mysteriously turn on, playing "Spongebob Squarepants," Oliver's favorite cartoon. In another scene, streetlights behind him go out one by one as Marty drives; an invisible chase that's simple, yet incredibly effective. In a clever scene, Sarah changes TV channels. Each channel has a person on the screen saying a word spelling out Larry's message on loneliness and threatening to take Oliver.

If a monster communicates and travels via ubiquitous electric and electronic devices, how do you ever escape? The film compellingly converges technology and loneliness. We are attached to digital screens, which arguably thwarts connection with people. Yet, the film also conveys how technology can be incredibly beneficial to autistic people.

Chase was inspired by his wife working with children on the autism spectrum. In some ways, the film is sensitive to autistic and neurodiverse people. But in other ways, it feels well-intentioned yet insensitive, equating verbal speech as "good" and equating eye contact with love. In a disturbing scene, Sarah yells at Oliver, "Can you just be normal for one second?" While this conveys Sarah's frustration, it remains an ableist, cruel comment. It's good to humanize characters and show mistakes, especially as society expects perfection in mothers. But it's made worse by Larry's manipulations: He tells Oliver his parents want him to be "normal." We also don't know why Oliver's parents are separated. The only reason seems to be challenges around parenting and Oliver's autism, which feels problematic.

Despite some issues, including relying on tropes and an unsatisfying ending, "Come Play" remains worth seeing for great cinematography, good performances, tense pacing, and a compelling premise.


"Come Play" opened in theaters Oct. 30.

Comments on Facebook