An autistic child gets stalked by a storybook monster in emotional and scary horror flick.
“Come Play” is the first horror movie with an autistic child as the main protagonist. I’ve seen movies about people on the spectrum, like “Rain Man,” “Life Animated,” or “The Accountant,” but never inside a horror movie. Writer/director Jacob Chase takes full advantage of the genre and reality by proving the heartwarming aspects of the disability and the inspiration from many horror classics like “Poltergeist” or “The Shining.” A near-perfect combo, I say.
This child named Oliver (Azhy Robertson from “Marriage Story”) doesn’t speak and requires a phone app to do the talking for him. He also watches old “SpongeBob SquarePants” episodes on his phone, has a learning aid in school, goes to speech therapy, and gets bullied by the other kids for his disability.
As you know, I’m an autistic film critic, who didn’t speak until I was 3-years-old, and had help for years. I didn’t watch the previews for this movie, but I was eagerly surprised it took this approach, and it delivers very well. It features the kind of connection between a child and a demon that “The Curse of La Llorona” and the “Child’s Play” reboot both failed to offer. It’s has a few jump-scares, but it isn’t consumed by them. In fact, once you get through it, you’re able to acknowledge its sweet and emotional side.
The reason “Come Play” is a horror film is because Oliver reads a book on his phone called “Misunderstood Monsters,” which about a deformed creature named Larry, who was disowned for being different and wants a friend. The boy can see him through the phone camera and Snapchat filters, while the monster can see him through the phone and iPad screens. And Larry tampers with the lights as a sign of his presence.
The other people who start to see Larry consist of his parents (Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher, Jr.), both of whom are on the brink of divorce, and the bully Bryon (Winslow Fegley), who becomes a better person to him. It’s about time we took a break from the cliche that the parents think their child is imagining things. It’s old and exhausting, and I’m glad the film never succumbs to that.
Robertson has proven himself to be a fine young actor, by adapting to his character’s autism, and providing empathy toward him. Autistic people are people, too, and there’s no such thing as normal. The film never glamorizes the disability, and takes it delicate steps in introducing us to the kid and his reality. Jacobs also provides her strengths as his mother, who wants him to look at her, because eye contact is also a challenge in the spectrum. Gallagher, Jr. also does some solid work as his father, who isn’t generic nor insipid, even if using an iPad while driving to find the monster is a stupid and dangerous move. And Fegley transcends from one emotion and personality to the next very well.
It’s often difficult to tell if the monster’s effects are good or bad, because it’s dark at times, but the movie is about visuals. It’s about mistreated and misunderstood humans and creatures, who want friends and sympathy. This is what I mean by sweet. You have to keep watching to find it. And you also have to view “Come Play” through the autism perspective, like I have, to see that.