Early in the pandemic, in between different stretches of lockdowns, theaters tired and struggled to stay open. Not surprisingly, studios were reluctant to release big movies for fear of losing potential box office dollars. Studios occasionally experimented with hybrid releases – putting movies in theaters and on streaming platforms simultaneously. Alternatively, some movies received shortened theatrical release windows before finding themselves on VOD platforms. While even some big Marvel tentpole movies underperformed, other smaller genre movies just fell through the cracks. One of those movies, Come Play, barely made back its budget before findings its way to Netflix over two years later.
Oliver, a non-verbal autistic boy, spends most of his alone, using his phone to communicate with others. His mom, Sarah, struggles to connect with her son. And Oliver’s father, Marty, spends most of his time at work, putting a strain on the marriable. When Oliver finds a strange app on his phone called Misunderstood Monsters, he’s introduced to a strange creature named ‘Larry’, who just wants a friend. Soon Larry starts turning up on other electronic devices before Oliver sees the monster in the shadows of his house. Now he wants Oliver to be his friend – forever.
Come Play a Consistently Tense Monster Movie With Safe Scares
At face value, there’s plenty to like about writer and director Jacob Chase’s feature-length update of his own short movie, Larry. Everything about this PG-13 monster movie looks good – the production values are solid from top to bottom. Perhaps what’s most impressive is Chase’s ability to establish an early tone of unease and maintain that tone throughout the movie. Never does this one feel like a lazy attempt to pander to early teen audiences. Conversely, Come Play often feels a bit dour as a result, which may come across as an odd criticism. Oftentimes the tone obscures what should be stronger emotional moments – scenes that could have elevated this one.
Sometimes these scenes feel a bit too well set up falling on the side of being predictable.
Aside from its consistent tone, Chase sets up a handful of decent scares. Sometimes these scenes feel a bit too well set up falling on the side of being predictable. One might also criticize Come Play of being a bit safe in its approach to the genre. Arguably, the best way to phrase it is that Chase keeps the scares pretty light. There’s some cleverly set up scares throughout the thriller. And the finale – though a bit long – certainly pushes most of the right button. Yet it’s also lacking in urgency offering little real concern that its child protagonist faces any genuine risk.
Come Play Could Have Done Something So Much More Interesting With Its Monster
As for the monster at the heart of its story, ‘Larry’ makes for an interesting creature whose design doesn’t exceed the limitations of the thriller’s CGI effects. And the ‘Misunderstood Monsters’ app and its story progression over the course of the movie effectively drums up some suspense. If there’s a problem with the story and its monster it largely rests with the mythology built up around it. To some extent, it feels like Chase misses an opportunity to work in some subtle subtext about our use and reliance on technology. Certainly, based on the monster and its exploitation of electronics and screen, the story seems to want to say something bigger. Ultimately, Come Play chooses to focus on simple thrills.
To some extent, it feels like Chase misses an opportunity to work in some subtle subtext about our use and reliance on technology.
Like everything else about Come Play, the performances are all strong with Gillian Jacobs and Azhy Robertson standing out. They’re convincing as a mother and son, even with the majority of their relationship being non-verbal. In particular, Jacobs conveys the sort of quiet desperation one would expect from a mother who struggles to connect with her own child. If the finale doesn’t fully capitalize on its emotional payoff, the fault doesn’t lie with Jacobs. In spite of his experience in genre movies, Come Play doesn’t really demand much from John Gallagher Jr (Hush, Underwater). By and large, Gallagher Jr does a good job playing the character as written – a slacker dad who’s eventually in way over his head.
Come Play Exceeds Modest Expectations With Light Scares
No one is going to mistake Come Play for a classic of the genre. It never approaches recent big horror hits. like one of Conjuring movies, or even a more minor hit, like Mike Flanagan’s Oculus. While Chase crafts a nice-looking thriller that maintains a consistently uneasy atmosphere, there’s rarely genuine jolts or thrills. Similarly, ‘Larry’ looks distinct and convincing, but there’s plenty of question marks – and some missed opportunities – around its gateway into the world. Overall, Come Play exceeds modest expectations and promises a hopefully bright future for its director, but it may be a little light for some horror fans.