There was a time when children used to fear the monsters that lurked under the bed or hid in the shadows of the closet. One will long for those simpler times when observing Jacob Chase’s woefully misguided horror Come Play.
Based on his brilliant 2017 short film Larry, Come Play centres around Oliver (Azhy Robertson), a boy with autism who is non-verbal. Lacking real friends and being bullied by a classmate named Byron (Winslow Fegley), Oliver spends most of his time on his mobile phone. The only break from his device comes when his mother Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) is taking him to his regular sessions with speech and language pathologist. When his dad Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) brings home a tablet from the Lost and Found box at the parking lot where he works as an attendant, Oliver finds himself drawn to a mysterious app entitled “Misunderstood Monsters.”
Presenting itself as a digital book, “Misunderstood Monsters” tells the story of a lonely humanoid creature named Larry who is looking for someone to play with. However, unbeknownst to readers, Larry is more than a fictional character, he is a living being who lives within electronic devices when not trying to breach worlds. Seeing his own loneliness within Oliver, Larry will not stop until he makes the young boy his permanent playmate.
While there are plenty of avenues in which one can explore the horrors that come with technology, Come Play never figures out the road it wants to take. The result is a film that is not as chilling or innovated as it desperately wants to be. Which is rather surprising considering how inventive and disturbing Chase’s short film is.
The short film Larry worked because Chase found an effective way, within its one location setting of a late-night parking attendant’s booth, to generate an eerie atmosphere. Chase provided just enough information to evoke genuine chills while still leaving one wanting more. While Come Play keeps several of the same techniques, such as making Larry only visible at times via the camera in the tablet, and the flickering of lights to announce the creature’s presence, centering the film around Oliver inadvertently reduces the tension considerably. Despite Azhy Robertson’s strong performance, Oliver is simply not that interesting of a character.
Oliver is written in such a way that both his autism and reliance on technology feels more like a plot device rather than an important character trait. As a result, one is more concerned with how Larry came to be rather than the mysterious incident that may have led to Oliver’s current condition. Unfortunately, Chase’s film offers little insight into Larry’s actions or methods. Worst of all, for a creature who can travel through electricity, Larry is shockingly dimwitted in the latter sections of the film.
Playing it too safe for adults and not creepy enough for teens, it is unclear who Come Play’s intended audience is. Those looking for an engaging film that mixes technology and chills should give Chase’s short Larry a spin instead.