The creature feature Come Play is about a lonely monster named Larry who crosses the bounds between the digital world and the real world to terrorize a family. Commenting on screen dependence and the challenges of parenting an autistic child, the film juggles a number of social-emotional issues all couched in a satisfying monster metaphor. Universal Pictures Blu-ray provides an excellent A/V package but only a Digital Copy as a special feature. Ultimately Come Play has some genuinely great moments but great moments don’t make a great movie so I gotta say Rent It.
“Oliver what did you download on this thing?”
Do you know what’s jarring besides horror films? Kids. Out of nowhere, they’ll just stare at you sleeping or suddenly hurl silly putty across the room causing you to have a heart attack. Do you know what really scared me during this movie? Early in the film, a kid places a cup of juice without a lid and straw on his bedside table. Honestly, my heart was racing more from seeing a damn cup than anything else in this movie. Maybe it’s the anxiety-riddled parent in me or maybe it’s seeing the attention to detail that makes Come Play such an interesting horror thriller.
Oliver is a young non-verbal autistic boy who uses his phone to communicate with his parents, friends, and teachers. When not reaching out into his world he goes inward with episodes of Spongebob Squarepants to calm down and center himself. One night a creepy e-book appears on his phone titled Misunderstood Monsters: A Children’s Story. The curious boy scrolls through it and learns about Larry the lonely monster who needs a friend. As Oliver reads the book Larry flicks the room lights and slams doors but soon Oliver learns he can use the device’s camera apps to see Larry when his eyes can’t. At first the monster’s attempts to terrorize the kid fall on deaf ears until Larry begins attacking others in Oliver’s life and bouncing between more than just screens.
Oliver’s mom Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and dad Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) are loving parents but thankfully their struggles with raising Oliver and their marriage help normalize an otherwise supernatural story. For me, the attention to the parent’s characterizations and development through the course of the story added some much-needed depth. While Sarah is established early on as the exhausted and supportive mom Marty is quickly characterized by his response to helping with Oliver’s nightmares saying “I always help when I’m awake.” Not cool, dad.
Early on we see a POV shot from Larry inside Oliver’s screen looking out at a happy kid just vibing on some quality Spongebob content. At this point, I am already feeling judged as a parent who leans on screen time when necessary. Eventually, the monster communicates his agenda through a montage of TV clips. According to Larry, he is made of loneliness because people look at screens more than other people. People look at screens because they’re lonely and If you take Larry’s hand and become his friend you never come back. In a world where everything we do is seemingly connected electronically is there a way to stop Larry?
Come Play is a satisfying horror thriller that banks on a number of subtexts to keep your interest going through the monster mania. Plenty of taught moments fueled by a supportive audio mix keeps the creepy atmospherics going non-stop even when the terror subsides. The film puts in some effort to build tension organically by offering sustained moments that allow the story to breathe between beats. There are heaps of parenting/social issues here to dig through before even delving into the needs of autistic kids and their supportive parents. One of my favorite moments sees Sarah running outside to dump a box of old phones and cables directly into the trash can to keep Larry from inhabiting them. If we could all be so strong to throw out old electronics, right?
Gillian Jacobs is perfectly fine in this role with some stellar “exhausted mom face” moments though it becomes clear her performance sags a bit when she isn’t running scared. Azhy Robertson’s portrayal of a non-verbal autistic kid is quite good. The supporting cast are all solid in their performances including John Gallagher Jr. as Marty and Winslow Fegley as Oliver’s lone friend Byron. What really helps the performances in Come Play was the mixed use of practical and digital effects to bring the terror to life. The Jim Henson Creature Shop was brought in to create the Larry monster puppet which adds some much-needed realism to the film’s story.
Come Play works incredibly well at being a “monster in the mirror” horror film but it really sings when handling family dynamics, special needs kids, and our reliance on digital culture. I had a great time watching the film while my phone and tablet were safely turned off (and locked in another room). Often I would put myself in Sarah and Marty’s shoes as they dealt with the challenges of raising a young kid and found some real beauty in this monster movie that is worth seeing.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Come Play arrives on Region A Blu-ray thanks to Universal Pictures. Pressed onto a BD50 disc the film is accompanied by a Movies Anywhere digital code insert slip. Housed in a standard keepcase the disc loads to the Universal logo before landing on the static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
Come Play arrives on Blu-ray in 1080p with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The HD Image transfer looks solid with plenty of depth and fine detail giving life to an otherwise muted color palette. Primaries are strong when evident like the toys in Oliver’s room or costuming accents. Flesh tones are even and appear stronger in bright light with some loss in low light. Black levels remain solid throughout the film with plenty of noise thanks to the constant addition of tablet and phone screens but nothing that distracts from the experience. Most scenes are filmed in low light which thankfully offers plenty of detail in shadow and darkness.
Come Play is supplied with an excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track that emphasizes a rumbling and swelling LFE to bring the terror to life. Highs and mids are tuned nicely to elevate the texture from becoming bottom-heavy. The audio mix utilizes the surround elements effectively from the start with atmospherics and environmental textures enveloping the room creating an immersive experience. Dialogue is clear and cleanly recorded.
Unfortunately, there are no special features included on the Blu-ray disc. You get a digital code. That’s something, right?
From the start Come Play aspires to be a frightening creature feature but ultimately works best when it dabbles in the social relevancy of our digital culture and its effect on the family dynamic (special needs or otherwise). The moments with Larry are genuinely frightening and quite effective but by the time credits are rolling you’ve forgotten all about the lanky screen monster.
This Universal Pictures Blu-ray provides an excellent A/V experience with a solid HD image and an immersive DTS audio track. With only a Digital Copy for special features, it's hard to recommend the Blu-ray and your mileage may vary significantly with the film. For these reasons, I gotta say Rent It.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.