FILM REVIEW “Come Play”: This effective horror film is the stuff of nightmares

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Well, it’s a scary little surprise if I ever saw one. Come play is a new supernatural horror film from director Jacob Chase, which exudes an eerie sense of familiarity. Adapted from his 2017 short film, Larry, it tells the story of Oliver (Azhy Robertson), an autistic boy terrorized by a storytime app on his smart tablet.

When opened, the app features a type of digital picture book that tells a fairy tale about Larry, a lonely creature who wants a friend. It is similar to Where the wild things are and its premise is pretty sweet. But when Larry begins to appear on the tablet’s live camera, he and his parents – not to mention his school friends – find themselves tormented by the nightmarish monster lurking in the shadows.

It’s really weird and Jacob Chase uses all kinds of influences to bring his story to life. At first there is a distinct similarity to that of Jennifer Kent Babadook, because the story even crosses the same themes, especially during the first act. And as the narrative opens, there are a multitude of other identifiable inspirations; including The ring, Fighting spirit and The thin man. And when you dig a little deeper to reveal even traces of Jumanji, as well as a clever play on the genre of found images, then that aforementioned sense of familiarity is the product of a filmmaker who graduated from the same horror school that so many of us were educated in.

Chase successfully creates an atmosphere full of dread and at times the suspense is palpable. Impressively, it doesn’t rely on jump alarms as much as it relies on anticipation of jump alarms. For example, whenever Larry is seen on the tablet camera – scary as it is – it’s never as scary as other movies might have. Larry rarely appears out of nowhere, but rather slowly hides himself so that we can see him. Not only does this overturn many expectations of the genre tropes, but it also goes a long way in establishing Come play like a decidedly atmospheric horror film, rather than an exploiter. In turn, the movie adopts that classic American PG-13 quality, which, if we’re honest, is some of the best horror movies.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

One of the defining aspects of the film is Oliver’s autism, which is portrayed seriously. His mannerisms and reactions differ from those of children in other horror films, and this is due in large part to Chase’s own experiences, whose wife works with children on the spectrum. This unique character trait serves the story wonderfully and creates tension and dread when Oliver is unable to immediately communicate with his parents. This leads to growing frustrations, especially from his mother (Gillian Jacobs), who has always struggled to connect with him.

Come play is exceptionally well shot by Maxime Alexandre who is the man of choice for horror maestro Alexandre Aja, having captured for him films such as High tension, The hills Have Eyes and Crawl, among many others. Here he plays with shadows and has fun teasing the horror of those darker corners of the background. What isn’t seen is quantifiably the scariest part of the film, and Chase and Alexander revel in pointing their cameras at nothing at all. The effect is magnificent.

Come play is the stuff of nightmares. Jacob Chase puts a bunch of familiar films in the wash and puts the machine on the spin cycle. What emerges is a new look at an old formula that flirts with the viewer’s prejudices and offers a lot of material to accompany his style.

“Come Play” was released in US theaters on October 30, 2020 and released on Australian Digital Download on August 18.

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