Considering how we have become a social media-driven, face-lit, phone cradling world of glued-to-screen robots, it is no surprise horror cinema is trying to send the bogeyman over WhatsApp! However, the genre’s shifting with the technological times has happened a lot over the years. See, Ringu revelling in the sinister side of videotaping, found footage evolving to transplant the fear in front of (and sometimes behind) changing handheld recording devices, and the likes of Unfriended and this year’s terrifying Host taking things to the social media and video communication realms. In fact, 2017’s sequel Rings even attempted (unsuccessfully) to expand its well-known franchise’s reach through a variety of technology (phones, laptops, in-flight movie monitors, etc.) but in Jacob Chase’s Come Play, no screen is off-limits for this monster tale.
Adapted from Chase’s own rather excellent short Larry, this film reminds of David F. Sandberg’s Light’s Out by way of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, with a story that ultimately and pleasingly ventures into del Toro or Bayona territory. Come Play sees lonely non-verbal autistic boy Oliver (Azhy Robertson) increasingly visited by Larry - a creature from a storybook on his phone - who wants to be his “friend”. As Larry’s sinister presence grows stronger and stronger, Oliver’s divided parents soon begin to witness this monstrous force and must act to save their son from being taken.
At face value, this screen crawling monster movie could easily be passed off as just another tech-gimmick horror flick. However, while some of its jumps and bumps might be familiar, Chase’s film rises above many others due to its story and intentions. At a time when we are so preoccupied with our screens, the film metaphorically shows the dangerous results of this, as well as how loneliness is itself an ensnaring creature and one often aided not defeated by technology (something this writer has learned all too well this year).
The film also offers a sympathetic and meaningful look at living with autism for both children and parents, showing how flawed thinking and decisions can amass in dark ways, and how children can so easily be separated and affected by our own fears and uncertainty. Come Play has a surprising amount to say with its premise and goes a different route than expected, becoming rather poignant and feeling inspired by the heart of some Spanish horror work. Reaching a finale that is both dark and yet quite emotive, and whereby the film’s “monster” becomes something a little more than that.
Chase has a handle on what he wants to convey with this feature take on his short story (and he pays many respects to the original), as Roque Baños’ score does a fine job adding to some atmospheric creaks and ‘creature approaching from the distance’ scares (a couple of which are fresh). While the cast is strong, especially the younger members, with Azhy Robertson especially excellent as Oliver.
Ignore some of the mixed talk, Come Play is well worth switching on, offering a story that has both a light-hopping creature using our technology-driven isolated times to stretch out its claws but also a fully charged heart beneath the phone screen.