By Elias Savada.
“It’s a fascinating concept, not that it’s terribly original…but one that constantly put me on edge.”
I’ve been a fan of Jacob Chase since the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival played his short film Copycat five years ago. He also wrote and directed the 5-minute dread-inducing flick Larry, a lean, mean creature-in-a-tablet tale with a unsettling ending about a mostly veiled monster who just wants to be friendly. You might remember his Doritos Dogs commercial, his big game breakthrough, which won that company’s 2016 “Crash the Super Bowl” challenge. Chase has now expanded that latter short, financed by the prize money, into the full-bodied fright fest Come Play.
It’s creepier than its cinematic inspiration, yet still rated just PG-13 (for terror, frightening images and some language). The “Misunderstood Monster” ebook that was the short’s startup screen now points its focus toward a lonely, special needs eight-year-old boy, Oliver Sutton (Azhy Robertson), a slightly autistic child to parents with “issues.” The dread, and accompanying bass rumble on the soundtrack, that slowly envelopes the family is wickedly thick here, almost relentless. The youngster’s dad, Marty (John Gallagher, Jr.), inherits the Joe Calarco role as a parking lot attendant who shouldn’t have looked in the pay booth’s lost-and-found box.
Oliver, a big Sponge Bob Square Pants fan, doesn’t speak, so he uses an app to do that for him. “Something in house,” it voices to his caring but unbelieving mother, Sarah (Gillian Jacobs), after his first near encounter with “Larry.” Dad, heavily ensconced on the living room coach, slept through the commotion. Already banished from the couple’s bedroom, he’s out of the house moments later, their struggle on how best to handle their son splitting them apart.
Technology devices play a major role here, as Chase has expanded his creature’s horizons beyond the short film’s tablet into smartphones, laptops, smart (and probably dumb) television sets. Chase doesn’t explore if the spindly being likes the Apple watch, but it does have a fondness for electricity and electronics as its mode of travel. Pepper in an abundantly effective sound design (by Jo Dzuban) and some spine-tingling whooshes, and you’ve got a nicely crafted film.
The plot keeps the parents out of Larry’s loop for nearly half of the movie, letting the kid carry his own anguish. Only snippets of the 10-foot-tall Larry, designed and fabricated by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, are shown during the first hour, and only when viewed through the gorilla glass of some smart device. Ever so resourceful, he really knows how to unplug you from your comfort zone. If you’re afraid of the dark, this is not the film for you.
There are lots of good jump scares within Chase’s electronic landscape. In a shout out to Harry Potter, there’s a little closet under the front stairs, although it’s just a passing MacGuffin.”
It’s a fascinating concept, not that it’s terribly original, but Robertson ably carries the load. The kid is no newcomer, as the production notes say, having appeared in last year’s Marriage Story as the son of Adam Driver and Scarlet Johannson. He’s also acted in a slew of short films and other features, but he definitely seems more up to his mostly silent task in this horror film. I can’t wait to see him in Invasion, the forthcoming Apple TV+ series based on H.G, Wells’ War of the Worlds.
While I don’t always like how Maxine Alexandre (Annabelle: Creation, Crawl), the director of photography, places his camera, especially when foreshadowing the light bulb popping spots where something is about to happen, he does a nice job playing with the darkness. There are lots of good jump scares within Chase’s electronic landscape. In a shout out to Harry Potter, there’s a little closet under the front stairs, although it’s just a passing MacGuffin.
Oliver has his detractors, some bullies in his classroom, who don’t like his special treatment, but mostly because they don’t understand it. Yet after their first schoolyard encounter, Oliver finds them on his doorstep, as a sleepover you suspect won’t end well for most of the participants. Especially if Larry crashes their party.
For dad, his introduction to Larry is a masterful nighttime sequence, using wind-blown paper to shape the invisible creature’s outline in the parking lot. Marty doesn’t notice. Later, after Oliver is placed in his father’s care after mom gets scared, the brute makes a more substantial manifestation. This time, Marty notices.
Of course, we the audience notice. As for me, I’m just looking for an excuse to turn away from a film that is increasingly putting me on edge. When Larry makes his proper entrance, near the film’s end, up through a myriad of electronics scattered on the family’s front yard, that’s when you see how brutal loneliness can be. That’s one horrific tall, dark stranger.
With friends like Larry, you don’t need enemies. With Come Play you may never phone home again.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).