PLOT: An app that’s controlled by a monster promises to deliver said monster if you use the app. In all honesty, this is more honest than Apple when it comes to their terms and conditions.
LOWDOWN: An autistic child finds a strange app on his phone that tells the story of Jerry, a friendly and shy monster that wants to be your friend and maybe take your soul to the land of the dead. On paper, this sounds like a cool idea. You have pervasive technology that we spend most of our free time engaging with, the struggle of a disability, and a lanky monster that means f*cking business. Mix these ingredients, and you’d hope for the Long Island Iced Tea of horror, but I’m sad to report that COME PLAY ends up like cheap Gin on the rocks.
The great Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr. play a recently separated couple trying to juggle a child with special needs and everything in-between. Unbeknownst to them, their son Oliver (Azhy Robertson) has found a story-app that’s invited a monster into their world. I dig the idea of a non-verbal kid protagonist who must fight off an evil entity that would be hard for anyone to rationalize, let alone explain. Taking away the critical component of communication lends this a unique way to deliver its horror. There are exciting moments, and you can see what director/writer Jacob Chase is going for, but a handful of creative ideas does not make a story whole.
I’ll give credit to the casting. Jacobs plays somewhat against type as the frazzled and overstressed mother, Sarah. As the intended emotional core, Sarah represents a realistic portrayal of raising a kid on her own with the specialties that come with a child that doesn’t speak. They purposely made Jacobs disheveled and midwestern looking, playing against her natural beauty, which is surprising. In a world where the new Aunt May is even hot, I just assume Hollywood has given up on anything even remotely reasonable. Still, I’m glad Sarah seemed beaten by her constant parental responsibilities. As the father, John Gallagher Jr’s does great as the likable Marty, who is continually working and not putting in the time raising Oliver. But will show up with an iPad and be seen as the hero to his son. It’s an engaging dynamic of two parents who love their kid but are nothing more than a fractured family, which leaves young Oliver to befriend an ACTUAL monster.
Larry grows stronger as the story continues and as Olive goes further with the app. This is where COME PLAY stumbles and trips over its own two feet. Besides some vague rules (which I’m not entirely against), Larry’s growth into our world is half-assed in its approach. He appears and can only be seen through a device. That’s most of the runtime, characters looking through a lens and becoming scared. They hint at a deeper conflict with Sarah being so overwhelmed she just wants her f*cking son to talk and act normal (I say the same thing about some of my co-workers), and it’s a truthful character trait to include, but it feels out of place here. COME PLAY wants to have a more in-depth conversation about disabilities and loneliness, but then we cut to some by-the-book jump scares, and it ends up negating any of the heart it previously built upon.
Maybe this was going for an A24 elevated horror approach (I hate the ‘elevated’ title, btw), but this is not an arthouse. Give me a tale of an otherworldly monster who wants to “befriend” kids, which means MURDER THEM, and let’s run with it. That sounds like a great time worth pouring a drink for, but instead, we get a VERY safe run-of-the-mill horror film that’s sprinkled with unique ideas that in no way gel together. Nothing is terrible here but coming off of a compelling and tight short film LARRY, COME PLAY can’t find a fresh way to expand the story, and we end up with a middle-of-the-road flick that’s just sorta… there.
GORE: Nope. Nothing to see here, folks.
BOTTOM LINE: I think Jacob Chase is a talented guy and will go on to do great things, but COME PLAY feels half-baked. It could be that a studio-head shaped this into a safe mainstream affair or forced re-writes that whittled it down into what we have now. Who knows, but as it stands, COME PLAY is a film you’ve seen a thousand times. I liked the casting, and we all can relate to the themes of loneliness and the longing for deep friendships, so I’ll give credit where credit is due, but overall, COME PLAY just ain’t my cup of rum (don’t drink much tea).
COME PLAY drops into theaters on October 30th, 2020.