GORE IN THE STORE
COME PLAY ***
Directed by Jacob Chase.
Starring Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr.
Horror, US, 96 minutes, certificate 15.
Released in the UK on digital platforms 13th September.
The Amblin production logo will no doubt hold a place in a number of genre fans hearts who grew up in the 80’s. It is a rarer sight now but back then it was a mark of a slick production; a Spielbergian mix of thrills, chills and laughs. So, at the beginning of COME PLAY, when the logo of Elliot and E.T. cycling through the night sky appears, anticipation is high for something similar. This is a throwback, but perhaps in too many ways to mark it out as something singular. However, despite its flaws writer and director Jacob Chase makes several decisions that highly impress.
COME PLAY tells the story of young, lonely Oliver, a non-verbal autistic boy with no friends. Able to communicate through screen-based apps, Oliver soon comes across a mysterious illustrated story online about a lonely creature named Larry who is looking for a friend. Unfortunately, this is one of those BABADOOK type stories that seems to pull its characters into the real world to terrorise its readers and Larry’s attempts to kindle a friendship with Oliver may have a terrifying ulterior motive that only Oliver and his put-upon mother Sarah are aware of.
The debt to THE BABADOOK is so heavy it is a wonder that court proceedings have not been initiated. As well as the story invoked monster the issue of parental guilt and alienation is also raised here. Gillian Jacobs, known more for her comedic roles in the likes of COMMUNITY and LOVE, does well with her portrayal of an exhausted mother nearing the end of her tether as does Azhy Robertson as Oliver, but the relationship between them carries none of the tension or history that THE BABADOOK brought to its mother and son relationship. Although Oliver’s autism is sensitively portrayed it feels like more of a plot device than a fully rounded character-based decision.
As well as that modern classic there are also other scenes that lift from other Amblin films from the 80’s, most notably POLTERGEIST; the use of screens as a conduit to another realm and one extended shot involving rearranged furniture being the most obvious examples. However, Chase displays some originality with his own original visual flourishes making expert use of location and the seemingly empty space of the widescreen frame. Windblown newspaper sheets stick to an invisible body in a parking lot in one memorable shot while a distance measuring device is nicely used to create tension. The Larry creature is also striking; a creepily designed nightmare designed and operated by the Jim Henson Company. The mix of practical and digital effects combined is nicely accomplished and gives Larry a near alien quality with his elongated limbs and needle like fang filled mouth.
COME PLAY is entertaining enough but the film, as well as its writer and director, proves itself with an exceptionally strong conclusion. Where it looks like it might lift from THE BABADOOK once again it surprises with a remarkably creepy and shocking sight that then leads into one of the most haunting and touching climaxes in quite some time. It is this sustained stretch of originality gives one hope that with his next feature Chase could accomplish something completely original that carries this quality of melding terror and emotion together.