Come Play – Review

Horror, Drama | 96 Min
Come Play Horror Movie Review
  • Release Date: 30 Oct, 2020
  • Director: Jacob Chase
  • Actors: Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., Azhy Robertson, Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright, Eboni Booth
  • Country: United States, India
  • Language: English
  • Parental Guidance: Violence, violence to children, bullying, language
  • Writers: Jacob Chase
  • Producers: Andrew Rona, Alex Heineman
  • Based On: Larry (Short Film)
  • Horror, Drama | 96 Min

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

We are back with another horror movie review. This will be one of only a couple of full length reviews this week. I will be putting out three quick fire reviews on top of this. I think I can forgive myself though. My Skinamarink Ending Explained article was enormous. I am taking it a little easier with reviews.

This week has started off somewhat poorly. The awful Headgame really set things up to be disappointing. Things perked up a bit with Valentine’s Day horror After Midnight. I can’t say the same about today’s movie, though. We are taking a look at another bad horror – Come Play. Directed by Jacob Chase. Come Play follows the story of a young autistic boy dependent on mobile devices. This is basically The Babadook with Augmented Reality monsters. Bad acting and a complete lack of scares teams up with a concept that probably worked better as a short. The result is a movie that some will probably love but I did not enjoy.

As I always say, though. That shouldn’t stop you from checking this movie out. The horror genre needs support and it pains me to review movies poorly. This is the type of film that will really appeal to certain people. Maybe you are one of those people? At the end of the day. It is on Netflix and only costs an hour and a half of your time. I will give a quick breakdown of the movie which you can skip if you like.

Come Play – Synopsis

Come Play follows the story of non-verbal autistic child Oliver. Oliver is dependent on his mobile devices for a number of reasons. One, to watch his favourite cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants. And two, to communicate with the people around him via a speech app. Oliver has a complicated relationship with his parents, as many autistic children do. He sees his dad as a figure of fun. His interactions with his mum are more withdrawn. He doesn’t look her in the eyes and she believes he does not love her.

Oliver sits in bed playing with his mobile phone. He stumbles upon an app called Misunderstood Monsters. The app reads a story to him about a monster called Larry. According to the story, Larry just wants a friend. After reading the story, the lights mysteriously go out by themselves. Later, Oliver’s dad brings home a tablet that was left in his work’s lost property. While playing with the tablet, something strange happens to Oliver. Using an app that places faces onto the user via the tablet’s camera. Oliver notices another face behind him in the darkness.

When Oliver’s mum arranges a sleepover with some children from the school. Strange things begin to occur. The children have actually been bullying Oliver at school, unbeknownst to Sarah. They tease Oliver at the sleepover and steal his tablet. When they open the Misunderstood Monsters app. They read through the story. All of a sudden, it becomes clear that they may have let something very unwelcome into their world.

Yet Another Babadook Lite

I’ve always watched movies in a, somewhat, critical manner. Especially those of the horror genre. My partner and I have watched thousands. In fact, we almost never watch movies from any other genre. It’s only natural that you become a bit cynical. Since starting Knockout Horror and upping my output in the past 6 months. That is even more true. To create an honest review. You really have to have a baseline starting opinion. The film is unremarkable until it proves you wrong. You owe the movie nothing until it gives you a reason to praise it. After all, even talking about the movie, good or bad, is offering it free publicity.

With that in mind. It is fair to say that you sometimes look past what casual viewers may enjoy. You become a bit too focused on the technical issues. You are quicker to criticise acting. Tropes stand out a lot more and concepts that seem a little too familiar annoy you. That’s where this movie, in particular, comes in. Come Play is an incredibly familiar concept. It is packed full of tropes and feels, at least somewhat, like it is pandering to the audience.

Come Play Horror Movie Review

If you took everything that people loved about The Babadook. The complex parent child relationship, the monster, the overall tone. Put it through a copy machine and then put the results in a blender. The mush that came out would be Come Play. It is wildly familiar and completely unoriginal. Hell, it even has dark, Henry Selick-esque, illustrations just like Babadook. Calling it a facsimile of the aforementioned horror hit would be too nice of a compliment. It actually borders on plagiarism. Just replace the dead parent with impending divorce and take away the kid’s ability to speak. You have seen this movie before, only much better.

Still an Audience for This Kind of Horror

The thing that is most apparent when stating the above. Is the fact that there is still an audience for this type of content. As a reviewer, the similarities annoy you. I have seen nearly 100 movies like this. Come Play does nothing at all different or unique with the idea. With that being said, there are still people who will enjoy this movie. There is still an audience for this particular horror setup.

Oliver is reminiscent of Samuel from The Babadook. He seems to have far less behavioural issues but is non-verbal. This is, obviously, a bit of a trope in horror nowadays. Neuro-divergent characters are common. Where autism is concerned, sufferers tend to be portrayed as somewhat superhuman. As opposed to the unflattering way in which they present people with mental illness.

An Autistic Protagonist

I don’t want to go into personal details. But it bears mention that I have tons of experience with an autistic child. Perhaps I, and anyone else with similar experience, will relate to Oliver’s portrayal in a different way? Oliver’s presentation of symptoms will likely seem familiar to viewers. It is something of a WebMD style list of issues. It doesn’t go into the complexities of the condition but will be recognisable to people. He is non-verbal and engages in stimming for self comfort. As far as social issues go. He desires friendship and can communicate via alternative means. Autism is a spectrum. People with the condition can present different complications from each other.

Come Play Horror Movie Review

With all of that being said. This feels very much like a Hollywood view of autism. It’s fairly unauthentic and is simply there to pander to the audience. Hollywood is rather obsessed with autism at the moment. It has become a trope which is a shame. The portrayals are almost always very skin deep. They never go into the difficulties faced by people with the condition. Characters are often shown to be “happy in their own world”. There is a general feeling of “hey, it sucks but you are amazing at math so there’s that”. Oliver falls very much into that category. It’s nice to see autistic characters. Despite that, the presentation feels a bit condescending.

Very Lacking in Scares

Come Play is very light on scares. Larry is a concept that loses its impact very quickly. Aside from how ridiculous it is to call a scary monster Larry. (I kept thinking of Impractical Jokers the entire movie).

Larry Impractical Jokers

The presentation of the monster, for much of the movie, is ridiculous. We have visual cues for the creature appearing. Lightbulbs explode or simply go off. Screens light up etc etc. Certain parts end up looking like a game of Lights Out as Larry pursues the characters. The over-announcing of the creature’s arrival really takes away form the tension.

Once again, leaning heavily into old, worn out, tropes. Larry does not appear visually to the characters. He has a physical presence. This is sometimes revealed in a couple of different ways. Again, ways that you will have seen before in movies like Hollow Man and the like. The main method of seeing the character, however, is through the tablet’s camera.

Larry appears in the camera walking around, hiding, or pursuing characters. This leads to numerous repetitious scenes. Characters holding phones up to check for Larry gets old really quickly. Each time it happens, the musical cues and presentation treat it like it is the first time. It is rather amusing.

Come Play Horror Movie Review

The most glaring issue with this method of seeing Larry, however. Is the fact that it lends the creature a sense of being part of an Augmented Reality app. This seriously looks like one of those smartphone camera apps. You know, the ones that inserts different things into your world? It is like Pok√©mon go but with horrific monsters. It really doesn’t work at all. When we actually finally see Larry in physical form. The novelty has long since worn off. It is disappointing and hugely detrimental to the scares.

An Overly Familiar, Dull, Backstory

That isn’t the only issue with Come Play. The background story is overly familiar and poorly executed. There is a strong focus on family drama here. As mentioned above, viewers of The Babadook will have a serious sense of Deja-vu. Oliver’s mum is struggling to connect with him. He has a strong bond with his dad but his bond with Sarah is more complex. She is somewhat resentful of this and takes it out on both Oliver and his dad. The parent’s relationship is frayed which leads to further complications.

Added to all of this is the fact that Oliver is being bullied by former friends. For some reason, Oliver is in mainstream school and at the mercy of neuro-typical kids. I am not sure whether this is how things work in America. But, in the UK, if an autistic child is non-verbal or struggles socially. They will almost certainly not be placed in mainstream schooling. They will be statemented. After being statemented, they will be offered a place in a specialist school for autism. This part of the movie feels ridiculous and undermines many of the film’s scenarios. The interactions between Oliver and the bullies do lead to some of the better scenes in the movie, though.

Come Play Horror Movie Review

The characters here feel very disconnected from each other. They are not particularly believable as a family. Whereas Oliver and his dad display chemistry. The bulk of the film follows Oliver and his mum. Two characters that completely lack a connection. The writing is so poor that Sarah’s issues with Oliver seem a little farcical. He has autism which makes parenting far more complicated. But he is a good kid that finds ways to adapt to his situation. He is incredibly well behaved given his lot in life. Sarah seems melodramatic and completely disconnected. This makes the family’s troubles hard to buy into. It also brings me onto my next point.

A Terrible Performance

Gillian Jacobs, as Oliver’s mum Sarah, seems completely out of her depth. I hate to say this because it sounds like I am just taking pot shots. But it is what it is. I rarely feel quite so strongly that a character has been miscast as I did here. She took me out of literally every single scene she was in. Whereas Essie Davis’ performance in The Babadook was painful for it’s authenticity. Jacobs plays almost every scene here as if the movie is supposed to be a comedy.

She has no ability to convincingly emote. Her line delivery is reminiscent of high school stage acting. Her facial expressions are wide and exaggerated. And she seems to struggle with character motivation. She really reminded me of Anna Faris’s pitch perfect, ironic, delivery in Scary Movie. Over the top and designed to incite laughs. Don’t get me wrong, she did incite a few laughs. But not for the right reasons. Considering she is supposed to represent the relatable, emotional, backbone of the movie. Her performance damages things drastically. I think she would be a great comedy actor. For serious roles like this, however, she just doesn’t fit.

An Otherwise Decent Cast

Everyone else does fine considering the poor writing. The child actors here deserve special mention. Azhy Robertson, as Oliver, does an excellent job. His portrayal of an autistic child is both believable and sympathetic. Winslow Fegley, as Byron, felt like the best actor in the entire film. He is way beyond his years. Jayden Marine, as Mateo, was great and has excellent comedic delivery. And Gavin MacIver-Wright, as Zach, does fine too. John Gallagher, as Oliver’s Dad Marty, does a decent job. His interactions with Oliver feel far more genuine. The cast is, generally, okay.

Come Play Horror Movie Review

Cinematography is fine. Nothing to write home about but perfectly adequate. I wasn’t a big fan of the tablet camera views of Larry. This is more down to the writing and direction, though. They happen so often they feel old almost immediately. Creature design is really decent, in parts. There are some fairly tense scenes that show off some interesting design elements. Again, there is far too much of it on offer. Less is more in this case.

Runtime is okay at 96 minutes. Pacing is a bit of an issue. The monster reveal comes so early on. The movie begins recycling its own concepts almost instantly. It gets boring fast. This speaks to a bigger issue here. Come Play is a feature length version of a short movie called Larry. It should have stayed a short movie. It doesn’t work as a feature length film. The concept does not stand up to being stretched. Adding a family drama side story wouldn’t be enough to make this work even if it was well done. In this case, it is very poorly done. Once the monster reveal is done, the movie loses its teeth. It becomes yet another Babadook wannabe.

Is it a Knockout?

Come Play is another Babadook wannabe horror featuring a split personality. Part boring family drama, part seen-it-all-before creature feature. The use of an autistic protagonist is welcome but feels like pandering. Used more to add flavouring to the story than to actually present a sympathetic, nuanced, autistic character. The dull story plods along with a total lack of gravity and little reason to care. The introduction of the monster, Larry, offers a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, Larry spends more time on set than the tea boy. It gets old very quickly and any promise of effective horror evaporates.

Terrible scripting and an awful performance by Gillian Jacobs caps things off. Come Play can't be saved by a decent cast of child actors and some fairly interesting creature design. This is just another in a long line of low quality Babadook rip offs.

Still, people who have a high tolerance for poor acting, bad scripting, and worn out plot points. May find something to enjoy here. Casual horror fans will likely enjoy the similarities to the aforementioned horror hit. Some may find the movie creepy. Some of the visuals are quite well done. The monster design is somewhat interesting. A few scenes feature a decent build up with some degree of tension. Others may simply enjoy the presentation of a neuro-divergent character. For me, however, this just didn't work at all. If Larry asks me to Come Play, I am afraid I will politely refuse.

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