Review by Sean Boelman
Although Halloween festivities will hardly be the same this year, Jacob Chase’s techy horror flick Come Play will scratch the spooky season itch for thrills and chills. Despite being a bit heavy-handed with its message, a few legitimately scary moments and an intriguing monster make this a solid addition to the genre.
The film follows a young boy who, struggling to fit in with the other kids at schools, takes up an obsession with his devices and accidentally unleashes a malevolent spirit that manifests itself through screens. It’s a family-centric horror movie in a way that feels reminiscent of a modern Poltergeist, albeit with less atmosphere and more jump scares.
The major shortcoming of the film is the fact that it is too on-the-nose. Chase is obviously concerned with the way that people have cut themselves off from the rest of society, saying so directly through the dialogue and even using a character on the spectrum who physically struggles to connect. And while the depiction of the character is surprisingly respectful, the use of autism as a plot device is still problematic.
Additionally, the character development is rather conventional. It’s a common cliche, particularly when movies feature characters with learning disabilities, for family drama to be a significant subplot. As if genericism wasn’t enough, this aspect of the conflict goes out the window in the second act only to be readdressed in the epilogue.
Gillian Jacobs carries most of the film, and her performance has some ups and downs. When she is supposed to be more subtle and grounded, such as in the more emotional moments she shares with child actor Azhy Robertson, she brings a lot to the table. In the more over-the-top, horror-driven scenes, she feels out-of-place. John Gallagher Jr. does a great job in his few scenes, but isn’t used nearly enough.
That said, the thing that will be drawing most viewers to this movie is the promise of getting scared, and there are a handful of scenes that are beyond effective. Chase is able to find the right balance between showing the monster and keeping the audience in anticipation to make the jump scare hit at just the right time, catching even the most seasoned of horror fans off-guard once or twice.
Stylistically, Chase does some really interesting things, especially with the technology-oriented framing device. Although there are some age-old tricks like flickering lights used to signify the presence of evil, a lot of what makes this film so creepy is that the characters (and therefore the viewer) never really know if he’s there until it’s too late. There are also a few scenes shot as if they are seen through devices, and those have an interesting effect.
Come Play is a lot better than one would expect, having an earnest but occasionally overbearing message and some strong frights. This is the type of horror escapism that is definitely welcome right now.
Come Play hits theaters on October 30.