Well this is a creepy little surprise if ever I’ve seen one. Come Play is a new supernatural horror film from director Jacob Chase, which bares a strange sense of familiarity. Adapted from his 2017 short film, Larry, it tells the story of Oliver (Azhy Robertson), an autistic boy who is terrorised by a story time app on his smart tablet.
When opened, the app presents a type of digital picture book that tells a fairytale about Larry, a lonely creature who wants a friend. It’s similar to Where The Wild Things Are and its premise is sweet enough. But when Larry begins showing up on the tablet’s live camera, he and his parents – not to mention his school friends – find themselves tormented by the nightmarish monster who lurks in the shadows.
This is genuinely freaky stuff and Jacob Chase calls upon all sorts of influences to bring his story to life. At first, there’s a distinct similarity to Jennifer Kent’s Babadook, as the story even traverses the same themes, especially during the first act. And as the narrative opens up, there are a multitude of other identifiable inspirations; including The Ring, Poltergeist and The Slender Man. And when you dig a little deeper to even reveal traces of Jumanji, as well a clever play on the found-footage genre, then that aforementioned sense of familiarity is the product of a filmmaker who graduated from the same school of horror that so many of us were educated at.
Chase successfully creates an atmosphere full of dread and at times the suspense is palpable. Impressively, he doesn’t rely on jump scares as much as he relies on the anticipation of jump scares. For example, whenever Larry is seen on the tablet’s camera – as creepy as he is – it’s never quite as scary as other films might have made those moments to be. Larry rarely pounces from out of nowhere, but rather, lurks slowly for us to see. Not only does this subvert many of the expectations of the genre’s tropes, it also goes a long way to establishing Come Play as a firmly atmospheric horror film, rather than an exploitative one. In turn, the film adopts that classic American PG-13 quality, which, if we’re being honest, some of the best horror movies are.
One of the defining aspects of the film is Oliver’s autism, which is depicted with earnestness. His mannerisms and reactions differ from the children of other horror films and this is owned largely to Chase’s own experiences, whose wife works with kids on the spectrum. This unique character trait serves the story wonderfully and creates tension and dread when Oliver is unable to communicate to his parents with any immediacy. This leads to frustrations mounting, particularly from his mother (Gillian Jacobs), who has always struggled to connect with him.
Come Play is exceptionally well shot by Maxime Alexandre who is horror-maestro Alexandre Aja’s go-to guy, having captured films for him such as Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Crawl, among many more. Here he plays with the shadows and has fun teasing the horror out of those darker recesses of the background. What isn’t seen is quantifiably the scariest component of the film and both Chase and Alexandre revel in pointing their camera at nothing at all. The effect is wonderful.
Come Play is the stuff of nightmares. Jacob Chase bundles a whole lot of familiar movies into the wash and turns the machine over to spin-cycle. What comes out is a fresh take on an old formula that flirts with the viewer’s preconceptions and offers up a whole lot of substance to accompany his style.
‘Come Play’ was released in US cinemas on October 30, 2020 and was released on Australian Digital Download on August 18.
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