“COME PLAY”

Published On October 28, 2020 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“COME PLAY”
​​Starring Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher, Jr., Winslow Fegley
Screenplay by Jacob Chase
Based on “Larry” by Jacob Chase
Directed by Jacob Chase
Produced by Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman
Cinematography by Maxime Alexandre
Edited by Gregory Plotkin
Music by Roque Banos

“Come Play,” a new horror film that for some unexplained, mysterious reason is being released in actual movie theaters on Friday, October 30, 2020, is a disappointment, is not recommended on any level, and is yet another example in a too-long line of below-average, unoriginal, poorly-written and generally poorly-produced and poorly-directed horror/supernatural/paranormal movies that studios and production companies continue to unleash on an exasperated, frustrated moviegoing public that is increasingly tired of these lame, unoriginal, un-scary and un-entertaining movies.

Actually, throughout the history of horror movies (and, in a sense, any film genre, overall, considering the tens of thousands of movies that have actually been made and released to the public), most horror, supernatural and paranormal movies are below-average, with many flat-out terrible and unwatchable. However, the quantity of below-average, thoroughly unoriginal and, overall, poorly-made movies seems to dominate the respective horror/supernatural/paranormal genre more than other genres. And that’s too bad, because there’s so much potential–and so there’s so many untold stories, still, in the genre that are waiting to be told. And, concurrently, the number of below-average and poorly-made horror movies seems to have increased in modern times, during the last twenty-five years. Filmmakers, for some reason–perhaps some type of real-life horrorific supernatural curse?–seem simply incapable of producing more than a literal few truly stand-out, above-average, well-made horror films in recent years and decades. If one examines the annual horror movie release list from, say, 1995 to 2020, well, the overall results in the horror genre are indeed just disappointing–and that includes some movies in this genre that made tons of money. Some of these movies may have made tens of millions of dollars at the box office, but when you sit back and actually watch them and compare them to the true masterpieces of the genre–they’re just not that good in the end. And, again, in many cases, they’re unoriginal, cliched, poorly-produced, poorly-directed and, mostly, poorly-written.

This latter point is, yet again, the main problem with “Come Play”–overall, the movie is extremely poorly-written, with insufficient, hole-plagued, unexplained, poorly-thought-out, poorly-constructed story, dialogue, plot, subplots, story development, character development (although there is some character development with several characters, it should be noted, but it’s cliched, predictable and unoriginal still), plot development, and other story-related filmic aspects. “Come Play” is, yet again, one of these modern-day horror movies that presents a premise, but barely develops that premise, barely moves forward with the premise, barely provides any real deep explanation for the basic premise, barely does anything clever or original with the premise, and instead relies literally on an exhausting, cliched and over-done series of scenes that are just creatures lurking around in the dark, trying to capture people. Seriously, time and again, that’s basically all that “Come Play” ends up being–scenes of creatures stalking people in the dark.

Yes, yes, we all know that thousands of horror movies are, basically, creepy creatures stalking people in the dark–we know this. However, what separates the better horror movies from the below-average horror movies is exactly how, where, why and when, and in what context, the creatures stalk the people. What’s the back story? How do the various film elements of lighting, movement, editing, pacing, timing, music, special effects, make-up, set design, directing and acting combine to produce genuine thrills and chills? With the better horror movies, this all comes down to, and comes together from, the respective talents of the cast and crew working on the set to properly combine these filmic elements in a professional manner to produce true spooky scares and freaky frights. There’s also the issue of time and place–why, exactly, do the creatures stalk this particular person in this particular place in this particular manner at this particular place? When those questions have some answers, some back story, and some context, the overall atmosphere, scariness and horror are enhanced, are effective, and are better.

As always, for reference, it’s usually the first films in many classic horror series that are ably able to combine these respective filmic elements in a professional, smart, clever, original and entertaining manner to provide those needed scary thrills and chills. Or, if not just the first films in famous series, certain other classic films that, too, are able to combine all of the basic elements in all of the right ways. Just in terms of modern-day filmmaking in the horror genre (say, since the 1950s), take the time to truly examine, study and watch closely, in a research-oriented manner (but still have fun and be scared, of course) all of the main filmic elements in such classic horror films as, to highlight a few revered classics: George Romero’s first, original “Night of the Living Dead” (1968); Tobe Hooper’s first, original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974); William Friedkin’s first, original “The Exorcist” (1973); Brian DePalma’s first, original “Carrie” (1976); John Carpenter’s first, original “Halloween” (1978); Roman Polanski’s first, original “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968); Taylor Hackford’s “The Devil’s Advocate” (1997); John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982); Philip Kaufman’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978); M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense (1999); James Wan’s first, original “Saw” (2004); Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Others” (2001); Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” (1981); Dan O’Bannon’s “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985); John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London” (1981); Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960); Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” (1963); John Badham’s “Dracula” (1979); George Romero’s first, original “Creepshow” (1981); Sean S. Cunningham’s first, original “Friday the 13th” (1980); Wes Craven’s first, original “Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984); and Richard Donner’s first, original “The Omen” (1976).

Now, take most horror films released since 1995 and hold them up to the dark, scary light of the films on the list in the previous paragraph–the results of the comparison is truly horrifying. Recent horror films–including incredibly terrible, unneeded remakes, sequels and prequels of some of these original films or even remakes of some of these remakes (!)–just don’t hold up, and, simply, overall, generally, they’re just not as good as the classics. Most horror films from the past twenty-five years tend to pay little attention to basic storytelling, are lacking in strong stories and dialogue, are cliched, rely too much on modern-day special effects (yes, yes, yes, we know that filmmakers can turn on their computers and make things crawl on the walls and crawl like a spider and go through things and spew bugs and bend over backwards and jump out of closets and all of the other cliched things we’ve all overly familiar with already), and just simply try too little or try too hard.

Which brings us back to “Come Play” and its current brethren. “Come Play” tells the uninspired, cliched story of an autistic boy (first problem: enough with presenting children with learning, physical, mental, spiritual, psychic or other disabilities or supernatural abilities in horror movies–that got tired and cliched literally about fifty years ago–really) named Oliver who, sadly, relies mainly on his electronic devices for socializing and communicating. Oliver’s a good kid–he’s smart, he knows what’s going on, he yearns for normalcy, having fun, making friends and basically just being a fun little kid–but, like many autism spectrum kids and adults, he has difficulties with socializing, breaking routines, communicating and interacting with others in certain situations. It’s difficult to deal with autism, and, to the filmmakers’ credit on this one aspect, we do indeed sympathize with Oliver, we do care about him, and we do feel for him. Much of this, though, again, has just about nothing to do with the overall story, but with the caring, kind and talented portrayal and acting abilities of young actor Azhy Robertson, who does indeed do a great job playing Oliver. Besides respectfully and admirably displaying the requisite layers of complex emotions of an autistic child, Oliver also displays the wide-eyed wonder, innocence, fear and even heroism of a young child dealing with his difficult social interactions, his fighting parents, bullies at school, impatient and misguided teachers–and, it just so happens, a creepy supernatural creature that appears to Oliver in his phone, tablet, computer and television, for some unexplained reason. Robertson, who was apparently only about seven, eight or nine during the filming of the movie (it’s unclear from available resources what his exact age was during filming), does a great job. In addition to his acting abilities, little Azhy also happens to be incredibly cute, adorable and lovable. He’s perfectly cast in this role, but, again, this young actor is worlds better than the overall film surrounding him. It’ll be great to see Azhy, who barely speaks in “Come Play,” be cast in a leading, speaking role in a dramatic film. Hopefully, good things will come in the near future for this talented, cute, energetic young actor.

However, as noted, there’s little in “Come Play’s” overall story to explain just why and how this creature appears to Oliver; why Oliver is targeted; where the creature comes from; how the creature can be killed; and why on earth this creature is lurking inside electronic objects. There’s just not enough backstory explanation about the creature, which is called simply Larry, to justify the actions in the movie. If we don’t know exactly what Larry is, where he’s from, why he’s doing this, why he’s targeting Oliver and his family, and why on earth Larry is coming out of Oliver’s electronic objects, well, it’s just irritating, and, on a filmic level, unsatisfactory. There needed to be more backstory, more explanation, more insight into Larry and why he does what he does in “Come Play.” Instead, as noted, far too much of the movie is simply–literally simply–Larry creeping out of phones, tablets, computers and televisions, lurking around dark corners, hallways, rooms and spaces, and trying to capture and take away Oliver. Really, that’s most of the movie. Again–why? It’s not clearly explained. The movie needed more than just a creature popping out, chasing people, and people trying unsuccessfully to kill the creature. The movie also doesn’t present any reasonable method to fight or kill Larry, thus providing little hope of resolution, satisfaction or closure. It’s just creature appears, creature stalks, people run, creature appears, creature stalks, people try to fight again, and more appear, stalk, run, scream, hide, try to fight–without the backstory.

Besides the first cliche or presenting a child with difficulties fighting creatures, the cliches stack up elsewhere in “Come Play:” the overall idea of a child fighting a supernatural creature, which was literally a cliche fifty or so years ago, at least; the idea of a supernatural creature appearing in or from electronic devices, which is a horrendous cliche that is also decades old (see Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” from 1982; Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” from 2002; David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” from 1983; Donald Cammell’s “The Demon Seed” from 1977, and far too many others to count); hiding under a bed while the creature stalks around the bed–really, folks, this is appearing in a horror movie in 2020?; lights mysteriously flickering on and off—the same sentiment: really?; the victims crying wolf and nobody believing them–a staple of so many horror movies, this was tired about 1945 or so; and unbelievable, sigh-inducing, contrived sequences designed solely to leave the protagonist, in this case Oliver, alone in a dark, scary place, for no real reason other than to leave the protagonist alone in a dark, scary place.

Filmmakers, especially horror filmmakers: When you pile up the cliches, in any context, that’s bad. When you pile up the cliches without a decent story and without decent dialogue, that’s bad. It’s just unbelievable, on some levels, that such cliched horror films continue to be made.

It’s concurrently unbelievable that filmmakers cannot get together, draft an intelligent, dramatic, layered story with all of the requisite story elements that are needed for an effective horror movie: overall originality; smart and clever and literate dialogue; concurrent, related and sensible backstories; inter-connecting main plots and subplots; clever twists and turns; proper editing that doesn’t just rely on tired jump scares and loud, creaky noises; basic, needed suspense, tension, thrills and chills; special effects that exist within and along and in synchronicity with the actual story; deeply-constructed story development, character development and plot development; well-thought-out characterizations; spooky, atmospheric and creepy-mood-producing production, set and art design; good spooky–and melodic–musical scores and compositions and not the modern day collection of noises that sound like garbage trucks crashing into each other; inventive special effects, make-up, costuming and prosthetics that do not overly rely just on computers and gross-out blood, guts and gore; and strong morals, messages, themes and political, cultural, social and psychological overtones and context.

Alas, “Come Play” is lacking in many of these areas, and, unfortunately, the film completely falls apart in the last fifteen minutes–which, of course, is when any film should come together in a rousing, satisfactory, entertaining climax of conclusion, completion and closure. And the last fifteen minutes is especially when a horror film should reach a satisfactory climax of closure. Alas, “Come Play” stumbles to an unsatisfactory, unexplained–and depressing–third act that will only leave viewers dejected, rejected and objecting.

Hollywood studios and film productions companies used to be counted on for many years to release a strong scary movie during October to help celebrate the Halloween season, but “Come Play” is not that film this year. Perhaps we didn’t need a scary movie during the Halloween season of 2020–because this year, and this year’s Halloween season, is scary enough in real life. Perhaps this is all a reminder that, most of the time, actually, the real-life horrors of the world are, of course, much more scary, frightening and horrifying than anything presented on film.

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