Based on his short film “Larry”, director and author Jacob Chase is now staging the fate of the lonely monster of the same name in the form of a feature film – yes COME PLAY is nowhere near as effective as its model. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Come Play (USA 2020)
Due to an autistic disorder, Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is an outsider at his school. Instead of speaking, he just makes incomprehensible sounds. Communication is carried out by smartphones and tablets, which are now like a kind of friend for him. Whenever possible, he seeks comfort and refuge in his technical devices. But one day, a mysterious creature named Larry uses Oliver’s gadgets to break into his world. The little boy feels the danger getting closer and closer, but his parents (Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr.) first have to be convinced that something evil has taken up residence in their home…
Many ideas for horror films have their origins in short movies. It has proven to be a promising concept to first test a premise in a compact form before later blowing it up to feature length. Some transfers from short to feature-length films were not even intended, but only took place after a major studio recognized the potential of the short film (which had previously mostly gone viral). In addition to David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”) and Andy Muschietti (“Mama”), big names such as Sam Raimi (“Dance of the Devils”) and James Wan (“Saw”) also belong to the colorful group of horror filmmakers whose short Movies once became feature films. But this idea didn’t always turn out to be fruitful: While with “Lights Out” one can happily argue about whether the three-minute or the 81-minute version is more disturbing, Lars Klevberg’s “Polaroid” is the best proof of this that some ideas are better served by a tightened staging than a stretched one. The same is true of “Come Play,” the feature-length version of Jacob Chase’s five-minute spooky “Larry.” The short film is about a monster looking for friends who scares a parking lot attendant one night. In “Come Play” Larry reluctantly chooses a little boy as his new playmate. But even if the creativity of the short film resulting from its simplicity shines through at times, the film overall becomes a victim of its own noise.
Little Oliver (Azhy Robertson) only sees the monster through his tablet.
The idea of “Larry” is extremely simple: In the middle of the night in a parking lot attendant’s hut, a man reads a short story on his tablet about a monster named Larry who wants nothing more than a friend. The few lines of the story stir up paranoia in the protagonist, played by Joe Calarco, until he seems to spy the outline of a skeletal creature in the beams of light in the parking lot. The situation builds up in short but very concise sequences of scenes and culminates in a moderately tricked out, but all the more intense finale. In “Come Play” there is now a direct reference to these five minutes in which John Gallagher Jr. (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) The impersonated father also sits in a parking lot attendant’s hut and crude scenes take place in front of the windows of the fully glazed building. There are a few very intense minutes in an otherwise extremely average horror film that at least begins atmospherically: One evening, the autistic Oliver spies the story of the “misunderstood monsters” on his tablet, in which Larry introduces himself to him for the first time. While Oliver reads the fable, which is visually very similar to “The Babadook” (which appears more threatening in Jennifer Kent’s masterpiece simply because the Babadook came from a real pop-up book and not from a tablet), scary things are happening around him Things: the lights go out, the outline of a sinister figure emerges and the tablet’s camera function detects a scary face behind him, which, however, disappears as soon as the little boy stops looking at the tablet.
“The short film is about a friend-seeking monster who haunts a parking lot attendant one night. In “Come Play” Larry chooses a little boy as a playmate. But even if the creativity of the short film resulting from its simplicity shines through at times, the film becomes a victim of its own noise.”
It’s not so much the sequences borrowed from the basics of horror films that announce the onset of disaster (flickering lights and suddenly appearing shadows are part of pretty much every horror film) but rather the intense acting of Azhy Robertson, who is just eleven years old (“Marriage Story”), which fills this inherently interchangeable genre film scenario with life (= fear). It doesn’t matter at all that you can count the sequence of tension and jump scares if you’ve seen any horror film before. When Oliver is afraid, this is quickly transmitted to the audience thanks to Robertson’s authentic portrayal. Now one can see it as a trick that greatly simplifies the suspense creation that Jacob Chase, who was also responsible for the script, has turned his young main character into an autistic person with severely limited verbal communication who can only articulate himself via a computer program – at least For example, this makes it impossible for Oliver to scream for help. But regardless of whether there was genuine interest in focusing on an autistic person as the main character or whether this was also for dramatic purposes: it is effective. And not just in terms of Oliver’s limitations, but especially in terms of how Larry gains access to the human world. This happens via electricity – and since Oliver has to have his smartphone and tablet with him at all times due to his autism, the entrance is literally open to Larry at all times.
The grimace behind Oliver wasn’t there before…
But now the plus points of “Come Play” have been exhausted – the rest is filled by Jacob Chase and his cameraman Maxime Alexandre, who is very familiar with the horror genre (“Alexandre Aja’s Maniac”) with commercially available ghost train hauntings. With ominous blaring music (Roque Baños, “Don’t Breathe”) a suspense scenario builds up, sparsely lit set pieces and the tried-and-tested play with outlines, sudden movements and appearing grimaces do the rest to set frightening accents in exactly those places where you expect them. At this point the difference between the effectiveness of the short film “Larry” and the feature film variant “Come Play” becomes particularly clear: When Larry suddenly appears in full size in front of the parking lot attendant’s face, Chase is simply shocked by the unexpected appearance of this non-human Creature. In “Come Play,” Larry’s appearances are additionally accompanied by a bloodcurdling sound effect – an instruction often given by the film studios (and only to a limited extent by the creatives themselves) in order to get the full power out of the jump scares. Unfortunately, “Come Play” soon becomes undoing for this sensationalism. At some point the pattern of tension and shock effect becomes tiring, even if you are violently torn out of your half-sleep at the end of such a scene. The only side effect: at least you get to see the quite likeable finale.
“A tension scenario builds up under menacing, booming music, sparsely lit set pieces and the tried-and-tested play with outlines, sudden movements and appearing grimaces do the rest to set frightening accents in exactly those places where you expect them.”
As nice as it is to be able to see “Community” star Gillian Jacobs once again in a supporting role in a larger studio film, she seems wasted here. The caring and self-sacrificing mother looks good on her, but most of the time her actions are limited to realizing in horror that her little offspring is justifiably afraid of the dark. Other side notes, such as Oliver’s outsider status, which is accompanied by bullying attacks, and the difficult relationship between mother and father remain exactly that until the end: side notes that are supposed to fill a film with substance that is unfortunately denied this until the end. This especially applies to the criticism that is thrown in with a wooden hammer about how obsessed with technology humanity is today.
Conclusion: Jacob Chase finds some nice, creative ideas for the feature film version of his short film shocker “Larry”, but overall “Come Play” is unfortunately a very interchangeable jump scare party.
“Come Play” is available on VOD on US streaming platforms.