Story: When a mysterious creature named Larry wants to befriend young Oliver and take him away, his parents must do whatever it takes to save him. But there’s a price to pay.
Review: Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is a mute Autistic child living with his mother, who is going through a recent separation. Life isn’t easy for Oliver, as can only communicate through his phone, which he even carries to school. Oliver doesn’t have friends and just because he is different, he is also the target of the school bullies. But there is someone who wants to hold Oliver’s hand and be his friend for life. That is Larry – a self-admitted misunderstood monster, who just needs a friend.
It’s not an entirely unique concept but ‘Come Play’ is the kind of horror flick that can resonate with kids without giving them the chills that they won’t recover from. It does so without resorting to excessive violence, blood and gore or nudity.
Writer-director Jacob Chase invests more in his characters than creating innovative scares, which is both – a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, we get to know and empathise with the protagonist Oliver and his family, but barring a few spooky moments and the atmospherics, the film’s overall fabric lacks the intensity of a full-blown horror experience. The screenplay moves at a languid pace and burns slowly.
The monster Larry is a good idea but again borrowed heavily from the 2014 Australian blockbuster ‘The Babadook’. While Chase successfully creates a scarry and unhinged creature, who comes alive through smart phones and tablets, he doesn’t invest at all in giving Larry a plot of his own. Instead, we see usual horror tropes like flickering light bulbs (because Larry feeds on electricity) and a dimly lit house in a silent neighbourhood. We also get cliches like school bullies and elders who believe that demonic creatures are only a figment of a child’s imagination.
What comes to the rescue then are some spirited performances that lift the narrative from regular to engaging. Leading among them is Azhy Robertson, who is hugely convicing as the vulnerable Oliver. Robertson gives his character, the restrain and relatability of a lonely child suffering silently because of his own physical limitation and a dysfunctional family. Among the other kids, Winslow Fegley shows promise as Byron. Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr. are quite aptly cast as Oliver’s young parents Sarah and Marty, respectively. Their struggle to cope with their child’s disability and their own differences, feels real.
‘Come Play’ tries hard to be different and succeeds to an extent. It concludes with quite a surreal climax that highlights the unshakeable bond between a mother and a child. Overall, it’s a strictly serviceable horror saga that chooses characters over chaos, killings and cringy special effects. If you’re game, come play.