Considering theaters dire financial straights, studios have been utilizing this time to release some of their shelved projects for content-starved audiences. That’s where Focus Features latest Come Play comes into action, trying to cash in on the Halloween weekend after its delayed-release (the film was originally scheduled for July 2020). While writer/director Jacob Chase’s film doesn’t reach a new plateau for the genre, his efforts offer an agreeable throwback to the Amblin horror films of yesteryear.
Set during our tech-driven times, Come Play follows Oliver (Azhy Robertson), an autistic adolescent growing up through the aid of his parents (Gillian Jacobs as Sarah and John Gallagher Jr. as Marty) and smart technology. When using his devices, a monster named Larry begins to manifest from the technology, springing to life in horrifying ways.
In his adaptation of his short film Larry, Chase approaches the horror genre through a non-traditional lens. Instead of favoring the scare-a-second aesthetic of modern horror films, Chase’s screenplay allows audiences to immerse themselves in the tight-knit family dynamic. This approach elicits a more potent emotional crux than most horror films, balancing sinister scares with Sarah and Oliver’s genuine comradery (Gillian Jacobs is underrated as always, while Robertson’s portrayal of Oliver never strikes a false note). Chase plays to the old-school Amblin sensibility without being overtly mawkish about it, registering a surprisingly dynamic film that balances the joys and pains of familial dynamics (the melancholic ending is a particular standout).
As a horror craftsman, Chase demonstrates his keen eye for impactful scares. He cleverly utilizes our tech-obsessed landscape to unearth frights from those always illuminating screens, patiently constructing well-timed jump scares from his eerily designed visuals. For a low-budget horror film, I was impressed with Larry’s distinct design. His long, lanky limbs are matched with a multitude of nightmarish forms, as Chase continuously finds new avenues to excite even the most experienced of genre fans.
Come Play achieves several positives within its traditional horror framework, though there’s ultimately little ingenuity speak of. Chase’s script rarely surprises audiences, with predictable plotting and a bevy of generic side characters offering a lingering sense of deja vu. If the writer/director zeroed in on the central dynamics that truly work, Chase could’ve had a special horror hit on his hands.
Still, Jacob Chase’s first outing is a relatively promising one. Come Play colors its horror trappings with an equal measure of craft and heart, making for a solid big-screen outing for any horror-starved audience members.
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