Come Play review: A rare horror film that is suitable for family viewing

Though far from perfect, director Jacob Chase’s horror drama is a fine allegory that throws light on the lonely existence in the virtual world.

Rating: 3 / 5

Director: Jacob Chase

Cast: Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr.

Gillian Jacobs, Azhy Robertson in Come Play [2020]

By Mayur Lookhar

Theatres have reopened across several parts of the globe, but the Coronavirus pandemic has reduced theatrical screenings to limited capacity. In a time like this, a horror film may not be a priority. In India, such content seldom goes houseful.  In a restricted 50 per cent capacity, not many would brave to watch a horror film in a movie theatre. What if you turn out to be the lone audience in a large hall? Now that is a scary proposition.

Your reviewer had his apprehensions, but he mustered the courage to watch Amblin Partners’ Come Play [2020] in a theatre.  it being a Reliance Entertainment [Indian production and distribution company] co-production was an added incentive to watch. Besides, we had a review to file.

Come Play – sounds more like an app store.  The title isn’t that enticing nor spooky.  The horror genre often suffers from monotony. The prosthetics, special effects do provide few chills, but very few films in recent history made you sweat in fear.

Seasoned editor Jacob Chase, known for his shorts, turned his 2017 short Larry into a feature as Come Play [2020].  The film follows the story of Oliver [Azhy Robertson] a non-verbal autistic boy who is haunted by Larry, a bony, lanky monster with a hunchback. The child’s parents – Sarah [Gillian Jacobs] and Marty [John Gallagher Jr.]  are deeply concerned over what fate awaits their little boy and the family.

We don’t approve of a horror saga where a special child is haunted.  New Line Cinema’s Annabelle: Creation [2017] saw evil torment orphans, with a little polio stricken girl bearing the brunt of the devil.  As much as we loved It: Chapter One [2017], but the sight of Stephen King’s monster clown Pennywise chewing off the arm of little Georgie [Jackson Robert Scott] still haunts us. Torment the adults, but for Christ’s sake spare the poor little children, especially orphans and children with disability.

While Jacob Chase’s Come Play is a horror tale but it is not one that will make you tremble with fear. “Not hurt, I am here to take him (Oliver),” Chase’s monster Larry tells the worried mother Sarah.  Chase’s monster is among the misunderstood monsters. We don’t know its origins, save that the bony creepy Larry is all lonely and he needs a friend.  Larry came into Oliver’s life through a voice app that the little boy uses to communicate.  Once into Oliver’s world, he infests every device that the boy uses.

Larry means no harm to Oliver, but he is no friendly creature either. The only one in danger here is Oliver’s smashed gadgets – destroyed by the mother to ward off the creature. There is nothing scary about Chase’s film, but it carries an important subtext.  Chase draws our attention to the virtual world that confines many to loneliness, breaking communication between families leading us to live individual lives.  Oliver’s no gizmo freak, he is just a poor non-verbal autistic child.  While his parents are loving, but they are experiencing marital crisis that sees them drift apart.  With his father not around, and the boy not opening much to his mother, Oliver spends much of his time in the virtual world. Technology has made human life easy, but its addiction confines an individual to a lonely space.

For poor Oliver, technology is the only way to communicate.  He has no friends, and unable to communicate at length with his parents, the child largely confines himself to watching cartoons and being hooked to social apps.   SpongeBob Square Pants (cartoon) being his favourite.

Come Play [2020] is promising in the early part, but soon it is plagued by rushed writing and unconvincing show by the leads – Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr.  The parents get whiff of Larry way too early leading to a predictable last hour.  The absence of any real chill means there is no intimidating factor around Come Play.  There is a drop in the intensity from the moment the parents (Gallagher Jr and Jacobs) realize that the dark entity haunting their child is real. Chase’s misunderstood monster has an intriguing look but he comes across more as a harmless big troll. The film though scores for its special effects.  The eerie scenes in the dark of the night, particularly at Barty’s parking lot does give a few chills.

Young Azhy Robertson impressed in his maiden film Marriage Story [2019] playing son to Scarlett Johansson.  Robertson has a fine screen presence and is admirable as the fearful child battling autism and being tormented by Larry.

Come Play is far from perfect, but the horror drama is a fine example of allegory one that questions life in the virtual world.  In a pertinent scene, former bully Byron [Winslow Fegley] gathers Oliver and another school mate in pledging that they will forever be friends so that neither of them can ever be lonely and let a Larry into their life.   The virtual world has its delights, but it can never produce the magic of oneness, the joy of friendship. So, shun your gadgets and Come Play together.  It’s not often that we say, but here is a horror film that’s suitable for the entire family.

Come Play [2020] is currently running in Indian theatres. Book your tickets soon.

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