Come Play (2020)

Come Play (2020) Cover

Note to reader: Unfortunately, my viewing of this film was less than ideal - while drive-ins are great businesses that are showcasing new releases in a safe and fun manner, visibility is always an issue (especially with horror films). As such, my review of this film is qualified by an understanding that my viewing experience of this movie was not always perfect, but I still would like to present my best version of a gauged opinion on the film.

Come Play is the new Amblin film from director Jacob Chase that is an adaptation of his acclaimed short film Larry. With this film, Chase spins out his five-minute short into a 96-minute monster feature, that despite some clever ideas and visuals, isn't able to overcome the intrinsic silliness and inconsistency of its own plot in a substantial way. Come Play is creatively ambitious, as it tries to use its simple premise to comment on family and loneliness, but the hammy writing and uneven execution reduces what could have been an interesting and subversive film into a throwaway monster flick with little inspiration. A unique technology bent helps to keep things slightly fresh, but we have seen similar concepts executed and approached much better in films like Unfriended and espescially the 2019 Child's Play remake. Come Play works fine as a forgettably suspenseful watch on Halloween night, but this discount horror film is simply a pale imitation of several better scary movies. Come Play boasts some directorial skill for Chase, but the energy feels too sapped in this uneven and contrived horror film. As a movie watched on the night of October 31st, it was neither trick nor treat - just ghoulishly medicore at best.

Come Play does thankfully assemble a worthy set of performers for its ensemble, however. Gillian Jacobs is well-cast as Sarah, a mother struggling to connect with her son Oliver  and trying to protect him at all costs. The script doesn't quite afford Jacobs her due as a performer, but it does play strongly into the bond she shares with her son, espescially into the latter half of the film. John Gallagher Jr., an equally capable performer, also doesn't have much to do in the film despite his considerable acting chops in other projects. Azhy Robertson (from Marriage Story) plays Oliver, a kid on the spectrum who struggles to make friends, and does a considerably good job with the role. The performances in the film do feel convincing, even when the material doesn't, and it helps the film from completely derailing in some key moments. 

With Come Play, director Jacob Chase indicates he has some interesting ideas, but fails to present them onscreen with real conviction. It's ambitious that Chase tries to present this movie as a fable about the vices of technology, but it's hard to really feel sold on that idea whatsoever when the story at the center is so simple and even silly. Going for an emotional angle about a mother-son bond, while drawing out good performance moments, also feels too superficial and forced for a movie about a monster that comes alive through an app. While it's commendable that Chase tries to build heft and interesting themes into this story and occassionally succeeds (the ending is outrageous yet poignant), the movie's dramatic moments feel unearned given the film's outlandish story. You only have to look to the 2019 remake of Child's Play to see a film with incredibly similar ingredients that fully succeeds in combining smart ideas, emotion, and humor for a satisfying horror tale that is both character-driven and a sharp commentary about technology. Some of the scares in the film are nicely done though, including one suspensefully drawn scene including a laser pointer, but it really isn't enough to make this otherwise cheapened horror film come to life. At the end of the day, as a concept, Come Play was perhaps destined to be best suited as a short film. Even David F. Sandberg's 2016 hit Lights Out (also based on a short film), while critically acclaimed, felt too sparse and in need of real dramatic grounding to me. Perhaps director Jacob Chase, like Sandberg (who went on to direct some solid films like Annabelle: Creation and Shazam!), will make stronger features in the future - for now, Come Play isn't a particuarly notable calling card. 

Final Verdict:Come Play boasts some clever visuals and ambitious ideas, but the overly simple and uneven execution of its outlandish story waters down its few moments of potency.