[Blu-ray Review] 'Come Play' Offers a Spooky Play Date with a Disc as Thin on Features as Its Creature
“Larry just wants a friend…”
…When I was a kid, all I wanted was a friend too. We all do. Whether or not we say we do, all of us crave some kind of companionship. Even monsters. And that’s the sad, eerie truth of Come Play, a film that brings a more emotional element to an otherwise traditional monster movie, coming to Blu-ray soon from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
In Come Play, written/directed by Jacob Chase and based on his terrifying 2017 short Larry, we meet Oliver (Azhy Robertson), a lonely autistic boy who faces the pain of being misunderstood by kids at school, and even his own parents, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.). All Oliver wants is a friend. Turns out, an otherworldly creature named Larry also just wants a friend, appearing to Oliver through a story app on his phone called “Misunderstood Monsters”. The more Oliver reads of the story, the closer Larry gets to entering his world and taking Oliver away to be friends forever.
Not exactly what Oliver has in mind for a best buddy.
For anyone who has ever had issues with feeling left out, unwanted, misunderstood, or all of the above, Come Play hits home in a way that some of the best monster movies do. Monsters have always been the personification of the “other”, the outcasts, like me, but few touch on the pain of being that outsider as obviously or effectively as Come Play. I mean come on, Larry’s story is titled “Misunderstood Monsters.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that when it comes to themes of loneliness.
Growing up, I was bullied frequently, around the same time my parents were getting divorced, and so I immediately connected with Oliver’s story. Oliver finds himself picked on by other kids for being “different”. One of the symptoms of Oliver’s autism is that he has had trouble developing his speech, so he uses an app on his phone to “speak” (the same phone which Larry uses to connect with Oliver). Other kids view Oliver as getting special treatment for using his phone in class, because they don’t understand his autism. Hell, the shameful truth is, most adults don’t either, and that’s the case with both of Oliver’s on-the-verge-of-divorce parents. Sarah is the standard do everything mother, taking Oliver to his speech therapist and having to play the bad parent while wishing Oliver could just be “normal”, whereas Marty is your typical aloof father, working all the time and only around to play with Oliver and be the “hero”, without dealing with any of Oliver’s special needs.
The family dynamic of the film is one that we’ve seen an exhausting amount of times in kid-driven horror films like this, to a point where it’s easy to predict how it will play out. Of course Sarah is the one to first learn of Larry from Oliver, and of course Marty doesn’t believe her at first. Of course Marty sleeps on the couch, and of course all of their conversations are about Oliver and how shitty of parents they are. Been there, done that. What’s new here is Oliver, and how deeply engaging Robertson is in the role. Not one scene went by where I did not want to reach out and hug the poor kid, Robertson is just that believable, and oh yes, did I tear up. Multiple times. Come Play gets a firm grasp on your heart strings early on and tugs at them like a musician fine-tuning a guitar.
The same cannot be said for Larry. Fuck Larry, and I mean that in the best way.
Just seconds into the film, Chase establishes himself as a filmmaker that knows how to crawl underneath an audience’s skin. Chase toys with everything you ever were afraid of as a kid, whether it be the monster in the closet or under the bed, and in Larry’s case, he appears in all of those places, including Oliver’s phone, which Chase shows us through a clever, albeit eerie shot which peers out at Oliver through a small box. Watching. Waiting. Chase and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre employ some masterful misdirection, often leading our eyes one way, only to have something terrible come screaming at us from the other. Come Play also features the most terrifying use of the Face App that I’ve seen to date, revealing Larry’s invisible location in moments that had me gasping “oh fuck you, Larry”. My one complaint with the scares is that they do get a bit repetitive. Flickering lights announce Larry’s arrival, and I shudder to think how much the flickering-light budget must’ve been.
Larry himself is a terrifying abomination of a thing, standing well over ten-feet tall and looking like a red-eyed, arthritic version of the Slender Man. Everywhere Larry goes, his joints pop and his breath wheezes. Chase implies with Larry that, just like Oliver, he is misunderstood, but I’m sorry Larry, you are too damn creepy to love. If you’re watching Come Play to be scared, Larry makes sure you don’t leave disappointed. Not all of Larry’s “rules” make sense, and it’s a little frustrating that Sarah and Marty suddenly go from non-believers to exposition tools explaining to us how Larry functions, but for the most part it works, and Larry never loses his creep factor.
We’d all be afraid if we had a creaky, groaning, skeletal ex that just couldn’t quit us. And like any bad ex, Larry is never not manipulating Oliver, which is the most unsettling element of the film. “Your parents want you to be normal. I just want to be your friend,” he says, torturing poor Oliver with the hard truth of his situation. I can’t tell you how painful words like those are to a bullied kid like Oliver or myself. And that’s the scariest part, is wondering if Oliver will ultimately buy in and decide to be with something which actually wants to be around him, monster or not.
Some of the performances leave something to be desired, and the pacing is as creaky as Larry’s glistening bones, but Come Play is an above-average monster movie that wins with more than scares. Chase presents us with all-too familiar tropes like the frustrated mother and the absent dad, yet when it comes to Oliver and his relationships, Come Play is full of heartwarming surprises that feel like a breath of fresh air from standard stories of bullied kids.
I only wish that the Blu-ray had anything worth mentioning, but special features are apparently a dying art, and Come Play features none.
Regardless, turn the lights down and pop on Come Play for a solid, spooky creature feature that will warm you heart just as much as it chills it. Just remember, “once you take Larry’s hand, you’ll never be alone again.”
Come Play comes to Blu-ray/DVD January 26th from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka