Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is a child on the autism spectrum. Mocked at school and troubled at home by arguing parents (Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr), Oliver takes solace in his gadgets. He’s obsessed with the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants until one day, a mysterious story downloads onto his screen. As Oliver curiously clicks on ‘Misunderstood Monsters’, he opens up a portal for a scaly, bony, scary creature called Larry.
Larry is an oversized monster that comes out at night and preys on a child’s fears. Like Oliver, Larry also wants a friend, but his end game is anything but friendly. As the monster, which is visible only through a phone camera, starts violently taking over the family’s lives, an unspeaking child’s inability to communicate excepting through apps or drawings makes the situation tenser.
Writer-director John Chase’s short film Larry (2017) was the starting point for this no-fuss feature that blends themes of loneliness and loss and the challenges of dealing with a differently abled child with a comment about our unhealthy preoccupation with tablets, smart phones, computers and televisions.
Chase turns up the volume and relies on jump scares to build the mood, but the frights barely leap out of the screen. Come Play dutifully follows the beats of the genre. It’s so by-the-book that you can predict the rhythm, which reduces the fear factor greatly despite Azhy Robertson’s dedicated performance. The schmaltzy ending can be overlooked if one holds on to the charged and emotional climax that leaves the question: who are the misunderstood?