Come Play may have the dumbest-sounding horror premise I’ve seen this year: A supernatural creature haunts an unstable family via an iPad (truly the most terrifying creation in existence). However, as with an ever-increasing number of films with dumb-sounding conceits, Come Play makes the most out of its premise and provides a creepy creature flick with a strong emotional center.
Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is a mostly nonverbal child on the autism spectrum who’s having trouble making friends. His parents Sarah (Gillian Jacobs, Community) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) are at each other’s throats, and to top it all off, some bullies chuck Oliver’s communication device away. Once Marty gets him a new one, Oliver discovers a storybook app telling the tale of a lonely creature named Larry. However, the more Oliver reads, the more supernatural occurrences ensue, forcing the family to band together in order to survive.
Like many good horror films of the last few years, Come Play grounds its absurd premise with a believable world and characters. Jacobs, Gallagher, and Robertson all do well, the latter showing impressive range for a child actor. However, the most surprising thing about Come Play is its dedication to story and characters over cheap scares. The scares we get are solid and the creature design is memorable, but I’ll remember the story and themes above all else. I also give credit to Robertson and first-time writer-director Jacob Chase for creating a believable autistic character rather than a list of Wiki-traits. Flaw-wise, one character’s initial behavior towards Oliver doesn’t make sense when we learn more about him and the CG on the creature could be improved, but a great ending mitigates these issues.
Come Play weaves a surprisingly emotional story out of its horror concept that may lend it broader audience appeal than your garden-variety creature feature. If you like your horror with emotional heft, then Come Play. You’ll be glad you did.
Rated PG-13 for Terror, Some Language, and Frightening Images