come play cpe

Written and Directed by Jacob Chase
Starring Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., Azhy Robertson, Winslow Fegley

Come Play is another debut by a director who turns a successful short into something hopefully better with studio support. The results are mixed, but overall this is the kind of film one shows their kids if unsure whether or not they’re really ready for a scary movie.

Oliver (Robertson) is a young boy with non-verbal autism. He relates to the world through electronic devices like his cell phone. One day, a story pops up on his phone, called Misunderstood Monsters. He begins to read about Larry, the monster, and things occur to make him spooked. He puts it away and eventually loses the phone in a field due to some bullying. Soon enough, an abandoned iPad finds its way into his life and the process starts again.

First, though, it is important to know that Oliver’s parents, Sarah and Marty (Jacobs and Gallagher, Jr.) are in the process of separating. It’s clear that Sarah carries the weight of the burden in getting their son to develop. Marty skips the real work, but somehow he gets Oliver’s attention and, importantly, eye contact. Now that Marty is out of the house, Sarah invites the boys (who were bullies just one scene ago) over for a sleepover. Why invite three kids over, when Oliver has challenges with just a little bit of change in his life? Well, the story works better when we see how lonely Oliver still is in the midst of these “friends.”

Larry the monster is drawn to Oliver’s loneliness, even after it’s pretty clear the boy is not really drawn to Larry. Why does Larry persist? Why do we see the story progress only to the next page read, even when it’s different people seeing it throughout? Why does his overprotective mother, who’s been the bastion of understanding so far, suddenly yell that she wishes Oliver was normal at a crucial part of the story? All of these are necessary to push the plot forward, awkwardly.

Even so, there are plenty of effective scares and techniques utilized throughout. It’s clear that Chase has spent a good deal of time learning how presentation as much as anything can be effective in making the memorable moment. If he finds someone that can help develop his character building and storytelling, he could be an incredible force in malevolent film.

Jacobs and Gallagher, Jr. are good in their roles, given the paths that each is destined to travel. Every time I watch Jacobs, I start out saying “Yurt it up,” to myself over and over. This time is no exception. Her skill as an actress is limited in a dramatic sense after years of being in on the joke with Community. Chase wisely chooses to give them the chance to learn throughout, instead of walking into the next rake on the lawn. They still get smacked in the face, but the story doesn’t have enough characters to waste, and thankfully it does not waste them.

This doesn’t forgive the clunky manipulations used to push forward an idea that is not completely thought through. The exposition explaining the origin of Larry is laughable. The ending is kind of sweet, even if it kind of kicks the idea of sequels in the junk. This would be a good film to just leave at one, but it’s also a good start to Chase’s career.

(*** out of ******)

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