Larry wants a friend.
Here at How About Notflix it’s pretty set in stone that I like films that surprise me. Not in the Rian Johnson sense where you take an obvious outcome and then just go in the opposite direction, but actual creative surprises. As a recent example I will point to Pig, a Nicolas Cage movie that for all intent and purpose seemed to be leading to a theatrical shlock fest. What we got instead was a fantastic, intelligent, heart wrenching film about grief, loss, and learning to move on. And a pig.
So I didn’t go in to Come Play particularly expecting to like it. I definitely didn’t expect to be tearing up by the end of the movie. Or that a film starring Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr. could present both as decent actors. Or that a film with a somewhat stupid premise, adapted from a short could be good.
Come Play stars Azhy Robertson as Oliver, a young boy with autism who speaks through a phone app. Oliver’s mom (Gillian Jacobs) and dad (John Gallagher Jr.) are two parents having a rough go at their marriage. One night Oliver’s phone starts displaying an e-book. A cursed e-book if you will. A story that tells of a creature named Larry. Larry just wants a friend. In a horror sense, not a Kevin Spacey sense.
There’s a group of three kids who bully Oliver, the leader of sorts being Byron played by Winslow Fegley. Robertson and Fegley are definitely the best of the kid actors in this movie, and it might sound strange but Fegley carries himself with the kind of emotional baggage you’d expect to see on a cop in their 40s. I half expected him to pull out a cigarette and start smoking it during his dialogue scenes in the film. Oliver and Byron have a history that comes to play through the course of the plot.
But Larry is an extraterrestrial creature not of this world who just wants a friend forever. You start to get the idea at parts of the movie that Larry might be a benevolent creature, and then you remember that this is a horror film. It wouldn’t be quite as scary if Larry turned out to just want to give presents and shit chocolate ice cream. More specifically it’s an Amblin film, who really know how to knock it out of the park with their films. 1917, The Trial of the Chicago 7. I actually have another Amblin film from 2019 in my Redbox pile to review; Dark Water.
There is a message in Come Play about society, and it’s utterly stupid. Without a doubt the worst part of the film. Thankfully Jacob Chase treats it like the time you replied “you too” when the waiter said “enjoy your food,” by almost immediately benching it and pretending it never happened for the rest of the movie. Looking at it as the sum of the parts, it does fit with the rest of the film and honestly isn’t any more stupid a horror concept than a haunted VHS tape, a cursed doll, or Ross Perot.
You can taste the inspirations from other films and internet culture in Come Play which otherwise might seem cheap and gaudy but plays into Larry’s existence quite well. There’s a nod to the Conjuring’s bed sheet scene, as well as to that viral video where the person is using goofy photo apps and it detects a face in the background. Some of the scares are broadcast a mile ahead and diluted somewhat for it.
It’s definitely an Amblin film since the creature of Larry is created through a combination of CG and masterful puppeteering, the puppet Larry being made with help by Jim Henson’s creation studio of all places. Just as with Spielberg’s prior films, Larry is kept out of focus, out of sight, and generally not given a clear, long spotlight until the movie needs him to take it. It’s a smart idea even when you’re not working with Great Value budget.
Remember when I said that The Empty Man was awful at 135 minutes? Come Play is 90 minutes and it uses that time wisely. As I have said before, I shall say again, 90 minutes is roughly the perfect time for your standard horror movie.
Providing all the spoops and thrills, Come Play is a better than average horror flick with a compelling cast of main characters who feel like fleshed out people and not the one-dimensional cast we generally see with these flicks. Despite the ridiculous origin story, it did keep my interested over the 90 minute run time.