Come Play review – screen demon from mobile phone spooks autistic boy

Jacob Chase’s horror film about a monster that pursues a non verbal kid on the autistic spectrum via mobile devices is a mixed bag

This uneven American-made horror film revolves around a young, non-verbal autistic boy named Oliver (Marriage Story’s Azhy Robertson) who finds himself pursued by a monster that lives inside his mobile phone – and any other mobile devices with screens to hand. His mother Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and dad Marty (John Gallagher Jr) are going through a rough patch: their marriage has been clearly frayed in part by the challenges of parenting a child with such acute special needs, who needs to use his phone to communicate and who finds it difficult to look his mum in the eye.

As a portrait of a family coping with a kid on the spectrum, this is very much a mixed bag: credible and well researched in some respects, but slipping up badly in other places. At times it’s as if the film-makers made a calculated decision to sacrifice verisimilitude in order to ensure Oliver always stays relatable and movie-moppet cute for a general audience.

In terms of horror concepts, it’s as if someone put the Slenderman meme, the scary girl from The Ring franchise, The Babadook and a few others through a woodchipper and sprayed the resulting mulch on to the screen. Or, to choose a gentler metaphor (since it’s not a particularly gory film) it is like a complicated piece of playground apparatus that offers lunging, ephemeral thrills, all swings and roundabouts, especially from its many abrupt jump scares. You can climb aboard from a number of directions, approaching this as an endangered-family fable, or read into it a parable about parental guilt and anxieties over too much screen time.

However, a few design flaws in the script snag and shred admiration towards the end, as writer-director Jacob Chase’s tonal control slips, and the work ends on a series of duff notes. Gillian Jacobs, who has done such fine work elsewhere, especially in comedies such as Community and Love, looks hacked off throughout, especially when called on to feign fear in the scary scenes.

• Come Play is released on 13 September on digital platforms.


Contributor

Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Wounds review – Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson in crass mobile-phone horror
Armie Hammer is a New Orleans bartender sucked through a cosmic portal in a J-horror-influenced misfire by Under the Shadow’s Babak Anvari

Peter Bradshaw

22, May, 2019 @3:11 PM

Article image
PG: Psycho Goreman review – controlling a demon alien is child’s play
A cheeky 12-year-old develops extraordinary powers after taking control of a menacing extraterrestrial, in this engaging comedy-horror

Leslie Felperin

20, May, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
The Tempest review – groundbreaking Shakespeare for autistic audiences
Flute Theatre’s innovative production gives children the chance to play out the scenes initiated by the actors

Lyn Gardner

31, Oct, 2016 @1:54 PM

Article image
The Prodigy review – unscary demon-kid horror story
With tiresome jump scares, bad acting and untied plot strands, this tale of a disturbed child genius is a cliche-ridden stinker

Peter Bradshaw

14, Mar, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
The Neon Demon review – Refn's outrageous fashion horror is an icy carnival
A second viewing accentuates the depraved menace of Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller, and Elle Fanning’s excellent performance as a girl devoured by beauty

Peter Bradshaw

07, Jul, 2016 @2:30 PM

Article image
Spectrum art prize awarded to How to Be Autistic video
A raw and remarkable short film by Charlotte Amelia Poe has won the new award set up to celebrate artists on the autistic spectrum

Dale Berning Sawa

07, May, 2018 @7:38 AM

Article image
Sacrilege review – an unholy desecration of women’s roles on screen
Debut writer-director David Creed falls prey to antiquated tropes in a stale folk-horror led by four vacuous final girls

Phil Hoad

21, Sep, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
'We use Shakespeare's heartbeat': lockdown theatre for autistic audiences
Flute Theatre’s game-based production of Pericles, performed online for one family at a time, is designed to create a sense of calm

Miriam Gillinson

17, Jun, 2020 @6:15 AM

Article image
Dina review – touching, tender documentary about couple with autism
This beautifully shot movie, whose principals emerge as intensely likable and intelligent, avoids cliche and sometimes feels like an arthouse reality show

Peter Bradshaw

19, Oct, 2017 @2:30 PM

Article image
Here We Are review – superb performances and insight in Israeli autism drama
Drawn on the writer’s personal experience, Nir Bergman’s father-son runaway adventure delivers poignancy through myriad insights

Leslie Felperin

20, Jul, 2021 @9:00 AM