‘Come Play’ is a legitimately scary look at the dangers lurking behind our screens.
Kernel Rating: 3.5 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This horror movie focuses on a tween boy on the autism spectrum who inadvertently allows a monster into his home. A lot of jump scares as the monster lurks in corners, waits to attack, destroys lightbulbs, and hunts children and their parents. The violence isn’t necessarily gory, but it is very suggestively scary, and results in the injury of one character and death of another. The monsters’ motivations are ultimately somewhat relatable, but its motives are still frightening. Also some bullying, including children calling a boy on the autism spectrum various names and pulling pranks on him. Parents are on the verge of divorce, and discuss their possible parenting shortcomings.
By Roxana Hadadi
The screens we now hold in our hands for hours each day—telephones, tablets, laptops—are portals to a variety of dangers. Predators, scammers, hackers. They all lurk in wait for us, and it’s difficult to tell whether we’ve been targeted until it’s already too late. That threat is given a fantastical treatment in “Come Play,” a surprisingly effective horror movie that wonders what if the entity waiting on the other side for us wasn’t human—and was very, very intent on making a new friend.
“Come Play” follows tween Oliver (Azhy Robertson), who is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum. He lives with his parents, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.), with the former handling the bulk of the responsibilities related to his schooling, social circle, and speech therapy needs. While Sarah is struggling under the weight of it all, Marty has a demanding job—night shifts at a parking lot—but also gets to be the fun dad, interacting with Oliver in a way that is mostly humorous and go-lucky. “He loves you and he hates me,” Sarah tearfully worries, and it’s an imbalance that is causing a strain in their marriage, and it’s affecting Oliver, too.
That confusion is coupled with Oliver’s increasingly difficult time at school, now that former best friend Byron (Winslow Fegley) has, for some inexplicable reason, turned his back on Oliver and started bullying him. Feeling out of sorts both at home and at school, Oliver retreats further into the phones and tablets he uses to communicate—and notices a new app installed on each. The program is called “Misunderstood Monsters: A Children’s Story,” and when Oliver launches it, it progresses like a storybook, introducing a character named Larry. “Larry just wants a friend,” the book claims, and as Oliver starts to read about the gangly, skeletal creature with the long fingers and skull-like face, the lights in his house begin to flicker. What is going on? What is Larry trying to do? And what does he want with Oliver?
“Come Play” moves briskly once that setup is established, relying on an ingenious narrative device to deliver its jump scares: Oliver can only see Larry when looking through his phone or tablet screen, and that layer adds an additional amount of tension and fear as we gaze through the devices too, looking for the monster we fear is there. Some of director and writer Jacob Chase’s other tricks are more familiar—like things blowing up against, or walking into, an invisible Larry to show us that he’s there, or light bulbs exploding throughout a house to trace his path—but they’re effectively rendered here, and will satisfyingly spook young viewers. And to its benefit, “Come Play” doesn’t last too long in the “Nobody believes Oliver” realm, quickly bringing his bullies-turned-frenemies and parents to his side in the fight against Larry. The trust everyone has in Oliver, and in particular the love his parents have for him, gives the final act of “Come Play” some deep emotional resonance.
“Come Play” isn’t particularly nuanced in some of its themes (it doesn’t get much more blatant than “too much screen time is dangerous”), and a character’s ultimate sacrifice might be too upsetting for young viewers. But the film does a good job balancing its scary elements with its messages about love, friendship, and acceptance, and “Come Play” is a solid horror introduction for tweens and teens.
“Come Play” is playing in theaters.
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