Come Play (2020)

Azhy Robertson and Gillian Jacobs star in "Come Play" from writer-director Jacob Chase (Focus Features)

Review

COME PLAY (2020)

Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright, Rachel Wilson, Alana-Ashley Marques

Directed by Jacob Chase

Writer-director Jacob Chase expands his 2017 short film into creepy feature-length fun and just in time for Halloween. “Come Play” is an invitation from a tall, skeletal, hunched-back creature named Larry who has a lot in common with the legendary monster Frankenstein; Both are lonely and looking for a friend. In Larry’s case, it’s autistic Oliver (Azhy Robertson), a non-verbal elementary school kid whose only friend is SpongeBob SquarePants. Shades of “The Babadook” underline the story that provides plenty of chills and a tad of empathy.

Gillian Jacobs (NBC’s “Community”) plays Oliver’s mom Sarah. She’s overprotective but well-intentioned which may explain why her son has no friends. Marty is Oliver’s dad (John Gallagher Jr. from “Westworld”). He’s a bit more laid back but a hard worker who’s never home thanks to his two jobs, one of which is a late-night parking lot attendant as in Chase’s 5-minute short which inspired the film.

Azhy Robertson as Oliver is the spitting image of Danny from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” He’s non-verbal but makes noises as if he’s trying to formulate words – like “Redrum” maybe? — and in order to communicate he uses a cell phone app that puts together sentences, sort of like a Speak & Spell. Oliver is held captive by technology which means there’s always a cell phone or iPad in his hands, usually playing SpongeBob, his favorite show. But the yellow porous cartoon figure that lives in a pineapple under the sea is also a coping mechanism for Oliver who hums the theme song when he’s feeling stressed out.

One day an e-book appears on Oliver’s devices called “Misunderstood Monsters” about a creature from another world named Larry who is lonely and looking for a friend. “He’s tall and pale and thin and tries to hide his face” it reads, followed by “He isn’t from the world you know.” As the story continues, lights begin to flicker, and noises begin to envelop Oliver so he shuts the story off but it pops back on and begins to read itself, the premise being the closer you get to the end of the story the better chance Larry has to crossover from his world looking to snatch up a friend.

You can see the Frankenstein references. Larry is hideous and like Boris Karloff’s 1931 monster, he’s in need of companionship but people get hurt along the way. The less-is-more technique is used effectively by Chase who gives the audience glimpses of the monster who can only be seen through the camera of an electronic gadget. This leads to quite a few tense scenes in the film that produce real scares.

“Come Play” deals with bullying and there are parallels between the monster and our young protagonist. The talented young cast led by Robertson is a pleasure to watch while Jacobs and Gallagher Jr. turn in solid and genuine performances as the parents.

Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (“The Haunting of Bly Manor”) uses minimum amounts of light to create a chilling atmosphere that compliments the on-point CGI effects. If you’re looking for spine-tingling fun this Halloween, well “Come Play” is just the ticket.

(3 stars)

Opens in theaters Friday, October 30

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. 

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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