It’s always a welcome sight when a relative newcomer arrives to take a stab at horror. Today, it’s director-writer Jacob Chase’s turn to enter the ring and he’s brought with him Come Play; the feature-length film based on Chase’s 2017 short film Larry.

Come Play stars Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr. and Winslow Fegley and touts the idea that electronic devices are haunted. More specifically, a lonely, gruesome monster named Larry lives in another realm and wants a friend. He goes about finding one by communicating through cell phones and tablets. Larry finds another lonely person, a non-verbal autistic boy named Oliver (Robertson) and begins “recruiting” him by displaying an e-book on Oliver’s phone. Once Oliver begins reading the story about Larry, weird and eerie events occur, and Larry’s pursuit intensifies. Oliver’s parents, Sarah (Jacobs) and Marty (Gallagher Jr.) learn of Larry after witnessing some of these strange events. As a result, they do whatever they can think of to save their son from this monster.

In all honesty, the premise is rather stupid. It’s not a new one, either, but switching out a mirror, window or a door for a tablet instantly makes it contemporary... but also borderline pretentious. In 2008, Forgetting Sarah Marshall included a dinner scene where Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) and Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) roast Sarah Marshall’s (Kristen Bell) movie about a haunted phone. One can’t help wonder if Chase saw that and got inspired to turn that idea into a horror just to prove Peter and Aldous wrong. He took a step in that direction with the short film.

Regardless, even a terrible premise is acceptable if the story delivers. But does it? Eh, no, but Chase still provided some genuinely scary moments.

The 96-minute feature got off to a strong start with a prologue that involved Oliver, his cell phone in his dark bedroom in the middle of the night. But that momentum was lost as things went in too many directions the remainder of the time.

Come Play’s major flaw is the overuse of jump scares. Not only were there too many of them, nearly all were telegraphed. That’s enough to take viewers out, although Chase did a great job keeping a dark tone.

An aspect of Come Play that’s a winner is Robertson. As Oliver, he provided enough fear and codependence to put his character's fortunes in serious doubt. Add to it Oliver’s autism and his struggles with talking (Oliver is not a mute; he has difficulty speaking), Larry is a formidable antagonist by default. The best scares come when Oliver’s alone – Robertson is truly convincing playing a helpless child.

It's interesting that Oliver is the film’s best aspect when the short film had no children. At nearly 6 minutes long, Larry takes place entirely in a parking lot where Marty works an attendant. The scenes in Come Play look like they were shot in the exact same lot, and Chase recreated some of Larry’s shots nearly beat-for-beat. With Stranger Things and It scoring big while nudging children front and center, focusing on Oliver made (monetary) sense as Chase added three more kids, including Byron (Fegley), one of Oliver’s only friends.

Oh yeah - Larry looks gruesome but he’s as exciting as towing a caravan “that’s got no f**king wheels.” Plainly, Larry is a boring monster that, with his ability to control electronic devices, would’ve been better off hitting up Tinder.  

With Halloween upon us, there are noticeably better viewing options available to get in the spirit. But for a film that’s limited by its PG-13 rating (i.e., no gore) it’s not a terrible choice when pressed. You’ll get a few creepy scenes and strong performances from Robertson and Jillian Jacobs. Sadly, there’s not much else, even though the not-so-subtle warning to stay off electronic devices is commendable.

2.5 stars out of 5


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