Reading the synopsis for Come Play, all I could think about was a fake movie from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Remember that scene when the characters are talking about Sarah’s killer mobile phone movie? Director Jacob Chase’s film has a similar premise, except it works in several other killer devices as well. As silly as it sounds, Come Play is a surprisingly compelling horror movie that makes the most of its premise. The film ultimately has less in common with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and more with modern horror classics like The Ring, The Babadook, and A Quiet Place. That’s not to say it’s in the same league as those movies, but it’s worthy of the comparison.
Based on a short film that Chase made, Come Play sees the return of the monster Larry. This boogeyman doesn’t reside in the closet or under the bed, but inside screens. Young Azhy Robertson made a strong impression as Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver’s son in Marriage Story. He continues to mature as an actor as Oliver, a little boy with nonverbal autism. Oliver communicates using an app on his phone, allowing Larry to peer into his world. What really attracts Larry, though, is loneliness. Oliver has no friends at school, and while his parents do love him, they aren’t the best at communicating either.
Although Gillian Jacobs is best known for her work in comedies, she demonstrates great dramatic range as Oliver’s mother, Sarah. Jacobs couldn’t feel more authentic as a woman who would do anything for her child, but she isn’t sure how to manage his condition. It doesn’t help that Sarah is basically raising Oliver alone. While Oliver’s dad Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) is in the picture, he slacks off when it comes to marriage and fatherhood. This makes it easier for Larry to infiltrate their household through smartphones, tablets, and SpongeBob episodes.
Part of what makes Come Play refreshing is that it doesn’t succumb to the more frustrating archetypes we see in horror movies. Although Sarah and Marty initially don’t believe Oliver about Larry, it doesn’t take long for them to catch on. There are bullies at Oliver’s school, but they’re not irredeemable jerks. While the film isn’t without CGI, it also enlists the talents of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to create Larry. Since Larry is from a digital realm, it would’ve easy for the filmmakers to solely rely on CG, but they went the extra mile with practical effects.
It might not be a game-changer, but Come Play is well-acted, atmospheric, and fun. What prevents it from achieving a higher rating is its confused commentary. The film is about a lack of communication in the smartphone era. In Oliver’s case, though, technology is one of the only ways for him to express himself. So, is this movie for or against the screens that have become mainstays of our lives? Even if its message on tech is muddled, Come Play is effective in its depiction of autism and parenthood. Above all else, it’s an absorbing ghost story, giving a whole new meaning to phantom phone vibrations.
Come Play is playing in theaters on October 30.