COME PLAY (2020)
Written and Directed by Jacob Chase
A young autistic boy named Oliver becomes the target of a monster from another dimension who attempts to reach the child through the phones and tablets he uses each day for communication and entertainment.
I’ve got a thing for tech horrors… maybe it’s because as much as I’m involved with technology on a day to day basis, I still feel that the internet and modern technology is responsible for a lot of harm in this world. So the idea of a monster movie that relies upon smart phones and media devices to connect the monster with his prey sounded right up my street. No-one ever wants their child to be lonely and absorbed by their devices but this experience is what feeds the monster in 2020 horror flick, COME PLAY.
In a story book reminiscent of that shown in The Babadook, we’re introduced to the creature of the movie through a disturbingly illustrated story entitled Misunderstood Monsters. Here we learn that Larry is one of said monsters and just wants a friend. He knows you’re lonely but you need never be lonely ever again if you take his hand. It doesn’t require many pages of this e-book to be turned before Larry is given the opportunity to reach through the window of his dimension into Oliver’s world and provide him with what he’s looking for but will he be able to penetrate the dimension splitting them and open the gateway to drag Oliver back with him?
Considering most kids nowadays are introduced and addicted to media devices from a young age, the plot of the film piqued my interest, but COME PLAY approaches this in a certain way where the main character, a non-verbal young boy named Oliver, depends on his mobile phone to allow him to communicate with others. This turns the idea up a notch. It’s not as simple as stopping using the device when things turn ugly if you need that device in order to communicate with others. Exposing the fears and concerns every parent has for their child combined with an unknown threat ramps up the fear factor through the eyes of the child and his parents alike.
As a villain, Larry is quite the chilling creation; his lanky, pale white skin with protruding bone delivers quite the skeletal vision. For a large part of the film, he’s not actually visible yet the tension is built up so beautifully to be frightened by what we can’t see. Our imagination takes over as the sound of crunching and shuffling of Larry fills the void, supplying us the only indication that he’s there on the screen until the media device is waved in his direction. In addition to the brilliant use of sound, the film provides visual clues, such as using the funny filters that you can use on camera apps, in order to really freak out the viewer. With a skull mask magically appearing over the face of anyone in the camera view on Oliver’s tablet, the audience is triggered to leap off their seat when the darkness of the closet prompts a second skull mask to appear alongside Oliver’s. Another example of this is when Oliver plays around with his father’s laser measuring tool. As the number suddenly changes, and then gets closer, you can’t help but panic. This presents a great use of Oliver’s sticky gum hand toy which we’ve seen him use earlier on in the film. It might not sound much, but the filmmakers have achieved a lot using very little. There’s other instances of scenes where less equals more, such as that with the lightbulbs, which really showcases how much fear and tension you can develop by cleverly utilising the props in the scene.
COME PLAY has a lot to admire about it even though it seems to pull its punches at times. A tremendous young cast led by Azhy Robertson as Oliver really bring the viewer down to their world and how it feels for them rather than just witnessing events through the eyes of a parent. The mythology of Larry, the way he interacts with Oliver and the other kids, and how the parents deal with this threat combined make for a terrific little movie that might not necessarily terrify but provides some eerie chills that should please audiences. The film also tries to deliver a message which it’s fairly successful in doing, even if a little bit in-your-face.
I suppose you could say that COME PLAY addresses a few things such as adults wrapping their kids up in cotton wool and isolating them from other children for whatever reason. This can end up resulting in a very lonely child who becomes addicted to seeking out entertainment through their devices. No matter how much Youtube or games you throw at them, a phone, tablet or computer isn’t a good or healthy substitute for real-life social interaction. Another way you could interpret elements of this movie, although nothing as such is highlighted in this way, is that monsters can indeed be a click away when children have access to technology. Predators roam chatrooms and social media looking for victims to target and children are often the prime target in these types of things, using their own devices without their parents knowledge to unwittingly communicate with them. Although the boy in this movie only seems to use his devices for watching episodes of Spongebob Squarepants and using his communication tools, that doesn’t mean that kids with devices are free from being lured in by others or from being bullied.
Combining outstanding audio and clever visual cues to really put the viewer on edge, COME PLAY works the senses in a variety of ways to tell its story and even though the final impact isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, the journey along the way is a riveting one.