An expanded version of writer/director Jacob Chase’s effective short Larry, Come Play centers on a young autistic boy named Oliver (Azhy Robertson, who played the son in last year’s A Marriage Story) who doesn’t speak but only communicates through his devices, such as a phone and a tablet. It becomes clear fairly quickly that Oliver’s parents—Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr.—are in the midst of splitting up, making his already desperate feelings of loneliness and isolation all the more amplified. It’s at this point that Oliver stumbles upon (or perhaps it’s pushed upon him) a storybook on his phone that features drawings and the tale of a misshapen creature named Larry whose only goal is to make a new friend in Oliver.
As Oliver moves through the story a few pages at a time, Larry begins to manifest himself in the real world in the guise of a slightly oversized, bone-cracking monster that seems to use the boy’s various screens as a way to move from place to place, following his new would-be friend wherever he goes. Chase’s screenplay is smart in that Larry isn’t just a monster that Oliver needs to get away from. Because Oliver’s life is such a mess—his parents splitting, bullies at school—Larry’s offer of friendship is somewhat tempting. We don’t get a sense that Larry is out to hurt the kid; he’s just planning to remove him from the natural world and take him to a place of eternal darkness. But at least they’ll have each other.
Oliver attempts to explain what’s happening to him, but his limited communication skills make it tough, until each of them have encounters with Larry as well that make them believe. Things come to a head when Oliver hosts a sleepover with his bullies, an event forced upon him by his mother in a misguided attempt to socialize the boy. In Come Play‘s best sequence (due in large part to the editing—Chase came up in filmmaking as an editor, although Gregory Plotkin is the editor of this film), Larry makes a truly terrifying appearance at the sleepover and things don’t go well for one of the visiting boys who happens to be Oliver’s primary antagonizer.
This being a PG-13 affair, most of the horror elements are reserved to fairly effective jump scares that involve Larry only being seen via whatever screens are available. The parents are forced to join forces to save their son and keep Larry from plucking him from this plane of existence. I have zero issues with films in which kids are in peril, and young Robertson is a strong enough actor that he sells every moment of fear very effectively. The creature design for Larry works well too, although he tends to resemble a twisted-up Slenderman. Jacobs seems a bit out of her element as the mom who won’t admit to herself that raising an autistic child is difficult and that she loves her son but can’t stand his behavior sometimes. Gallagher fares a bit better as the slacker-ish dad who simply doesn’t want to deal with the kid regularly but is happy to swoop in, after working in a parking lot all day, to be the hero. Both characters are a little too dumb when it comes to acknowledging Larry’s presence after overwhelming evidence, but that’s how horror movies work.
In the end, Come Play is a great calling-card film from Chase—making his debut in the horror genre—and I really can’t wait to see what he does next (hopefully continuing with scary films). The visuals and sound design are quite powerful and push the scares in impactful ways. The film is good enough without extending into greatness, and that’s not bad.
The film opens theatrically on Friday.
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