Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 21, 2021)
Back in 2017, Jacob Chase wrote and directed Larry, a short film about a monster who seeks friends. Apparently this caught the eye of producers in high places, as they shoveled enough money at Chase to create Come Play, a feature-length adaptation of Larry.
Young Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is a boy with autism. Due to his non-verbal status, he uses a smartphone to communicate with the world.
Oliver also uses it for entertainment, of course – especially Spongebob - and a new avenue opens up when suddenly his phone entices him to follow a story called Misunderstood Monsters. There he learns of a creature called “Larry” who desperately craves friendship.
This turns into a problem when it becomes clear Larry possesses abilities beyond the digital realm. As Larry attempts to cross over from the phone screen into real life, Larry and his parents Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) need to fight against this ominous intrusion.
Going into Play, I encountered three potential strikes against it. For one, movies with child protagonists tend to be spotty, so the film’s intense focus on a young character brought possible issues.
Secondly, the choice to make Oliver autistic opened a can of worms as well. Hollywood often treats those with different abilities as cartoons, so I feared Play would use Oliver’s challenges as an excuse to make him a one-dimensional oddity.
Finally, Play comes with a “PG-13” rating. I don’t view that as the kiss of death for horror, but studios tend to neuter scary stories to get that “teen friendly” rating, so I thought the movie might rub off its edges in the interest of mass appeal.
Happily, none of these potential issues hampered Play. While far from a great film, it nonetheless works well enough to become an above-average entry in the genre.
Much of the credit for the movie’s success stems from Robertson’s solid lead performance. He creates a surprisingly believable take on a child with autism, and he avoids the cheap theatrics most actors bring to those sorts of characters.
Honestly, Robertson delivers such a realistic turn that it becomes easy to think the filmmakers hired an actual child with autism. He grounds the film and gives it an unusual and compelling flavor.
As for the “PG-13” side, that doesn’t become an issue. Nothing about Play veers into graphic territory that might benefit from an “R” rating, so the movie generates appropriate scares and doesn’t seem dumbed down to get the “PG-13”.
I will say that Play peters out a bit as it goes. The film builds the story and characters well in the first half, but it tends to lose steam along the way.
That doesn’t turn into a fatal flaw, though, as the final 45 minutes or so remain effective. The movie just can’t keep up with the promise of the first half as well as I might like.
Still, given how crummy so much modern horror is, I’ll take the “pretty good” status of Come Play. While not a classic, it delivers a mostly effective horror flick.