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.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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