Come Play (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – A monster named Larry manifests itself through smart phones and mobile devices. Feature film version of the 2017 short film.

My Take – Since the release of The Ring, the American remake of Ringu, back in 2002, we’ve become quite accustomed to the fact that monsters and spirits from the beyond are pretty much adept at creeping behind screens and using technology to haunt anyone in the material world. So what makes this latest from first time director Jacob Chase any different from other films? Well, a twisted, slimy, sinewy and skeletal beast named Larry who lives within your phone, apparently just wants a friend, and is ready to do just about anything for it.

In this feature expansion of Jacob Chase‘s five-minute short film called Larry, which he wrote and directed, smart phones, apps and iPad screens are the stuff of nightmares, as director Chase combines elements of Lights Out (2016) and The Babadook (2014) to produce a pretty solid and enjoyable romp.

While it simultaneously feels exhaustively formulaic, with its classic clichés, many predictable timed jump scares and the all too common tech themes of parenthood, it still wraps everything together nicely with some provocative and entertaining scary ideas. There are also some tremendous moments of authentic emotion portrayed by the main actors as well, which without a doubt is an underrated aspect especially in PG-13 horror films.

At the end of the day, the film serves as a promising debut for Jacob Chase, and leaves you curious about what the writer-director might come up with next.

The story follows Oliver (Azhy Robertson), a young kid on the autism spectrum who struggles with speaking, and uses a speech app in his smartphone to make complete sentences. A factor which also makes him the target of bullies. It also doesn’t help that his parents, Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) and Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) are on the edge of splitting up because of those difficulties. And when left on his own Oliver finds solace in devices.

However one day a digital graphic narrative called “Misunderstood Monsters” pops up, and when he begins to read through it, slowly and cautiously, Larry, the main focus of the narrative, begins to come alive, and starts to use the Internet and the electrical wiring as a means of coming more and more into the physical world.

In its 90 minute runtime this latest horror offering is a tight and concise film that will give casual horror fans their fix of edge-of-your-seat moments. The film comes alive with impressive, old-school production design and simple direction, especially in scenes where the camera pans across a room or outside a house as lights in the foreground and background flip off one-by-one.

Underneath the surface of this horror though lies a much deeper tale surrounding a couple trying to do the best they can for their autistic son. Making matters worse is the fact that Oliver connects with Marty, but even refuses to look at Sarah, his own mother, hereby increasing the intensity between the couple.

The film even focuses on loneliness, an element which has resulted in the excessive use of technology, as a result of which people are not bothered about each other anymore. Here, it is obvious from the start that Oliver too longs for connection but doesn’t know how. He once had a friend in Bryon (Winslow Fegley), but now he seems more bothered with bullying him.

As a result, Oliver is left to spend hours on end on his tablet, making his connection to Larry palpable. The term “normal” is used throughout the picture and it crescendos beautifully into the final act that lays everything out on the line and resolves almost all the conflicts that have been raised across the film’s run-time.

The biggest take-away from the horror though comes from the imaginative use of electronics and apps. Most of the big frights come through the camera lens of Oliver’s tablet, with an undercurrent of social commentary about media dependence and screen-time.

The jump scares are used well for the most part, and combine nicely with an eerie sound design that grips this picture. There’s a lot of clicking, bumping and bone-breaking splats when our creature shows up, making for an equally unsettling audible experience as our antagonist arrives. The creature design for Larry also works well. He’s scary, well-designed, and employed in a way that draws the eye while keeping the viewer on edge for fear Larry may dish out a sudden jolt.

While the film toys with some interesting concepts and commentary, there is just something’s missing. Director Jacob Chase clearly has good intentions, but he doesn’t explore the concept enough to fulfill its potential. The idea of another world where a character like Larry can live and then come over to our own is enough to make one sit up and pay attention. Yet the film never goes that necessary step further to have audiences become wary of their phone as the end credits roll. The film just plays too safe, sometimes to the point of being predictable.

Performance wise, Azhy Robertson is terrific. He feels like a real boy, and the way his autism is depicted is very true to life. It can’t be an easy task for a young man to give a full characterization to a silent performance, but he pulls it off. Gillian Jacobs does her exhausted mother quite well, while John Gallagher Jr. sharing the parental emotional weight is also quite good. On the whole, ‘Come Play’ is an adequately engrossing horror film with enough frights to make it worth checking out.

Directed – Jacob Chase

Starring – Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr.

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 90 minutes

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