Little Oliver is autistic. He’s really a sweet kid down deep, but it’s pretty hard for him to show that side to the world around him. He’s definitely not a snuggler.
In fact, Oliver can’t even talk to express much of anything he’s feeling. He uses a verbal app on his always-present smartphone to share whatever short sentences he needs to convey. But more often, 10-year-old Oliver is glued to that device, watching SpongeBob shows or consuming other kiddie show amusements.
In fact, his mom, Sarah, is pretty concerned that Oliver’s obsession with that screen in his hand might actually be doing more harm than good. Not only does his condition make it difficult for him to have friends, his constant screen use keeps him permanently isolated.
Early one morning, however, something altogether unexpected flashes across Oliver’s little screen. It’s a side-scrolling children’s storybook about another person who’s in need of a friend: Larry. But Larry isn’t some little boy like Oliver. He’s something bony, hunched and creepy.
Oliver tries to close that picture-book app and go back to something a bit more spongey and cheerful. But Larry’s story keeps coming back, over and over.
“He’s tall and pale and thin and tries to hide his face,” the story reads. “He isn’t from the world you know. Larry comes from another place.”
The story also suggests that there is a magic window through which Larry can keep an eye out for potential pals.
“Larry has looked through the glass and found you staring back. He understands you’re lonely. A true friend is what you lack!”
Little Oliver, may have a difficult time expressing himself, but he doesn’t have any trouble with his thinking. And right now, he’s thinking … he needs to put his phone down.
Oliver’s parents, Sarah and Marty, are having some marital issues, driven by emotional strains in their household. But there’s no doubt that they both love Oliver dearly. In fact, they put their relationship squabbles aside quickly when it appears that Oliver is struggling with something he can’t quite express.
Later, when they realize that Oliver has been getting the creepy “Larry Storybook” messages, they both do whatever they can to protect their son. One of them even goes to the self-sacrificial extreme of putting their life up in exchange for the boy.
Sarah repeatedly tells her son that she loves him. And Oliver eventually responds in turn. A bully turns over a new leaf and asks for forgiveness for his choices. Oliver and a couple other kids pledge their friendship.
Larry is a creature from another dimension than our own. And while his origin is never fully explained, it appears that this horrendous bone-and-skin creature is some kind of demonic entity.
Larry can move around—in a spectral form—in our world, but he can only be seen through the camera of a phone or tablet. That said, under certain conditions he can crawl through a screen and be physically in this world for a short while.
There are numerous jump scenes in which the ghostly Larry is caught by a passing camera, or doors and furniture seemingly move on their own. We also see a second, similarly spectral entity.
Larry “converses” with Sarah through a TV screen, pointing out that overuse of screens makes people lonely, and observing that this selfsame loneliness is what apparently created him.
[Spoiler Warning] Someone takes Larry’s long bony hand at one point, and he seemingly sucks out the soul of that person.
We see Sarah dressed in her sleepwear, pajama bottoms and a tank top, a couple times.
With Larry’s touch, someone’s face cracks and shrivels, and that person’s eyes fill with blood. Larry causes physical damage, smashing furniture and light bulbs, and slamming vehicles and other objects in both spectral and physical form. While invisible, Larry grabs Oliver by the head and lifts the boy off his feet. The creature causes a car wreck, too. (We don’t see the actual crash, but we do see Marty in a hospital bed with his leg in a cast.)
Upon realizing that Larry has been watching Oliver and other family members through the screens in their home, Sarah smashes all the many tablets, computer monitors and TVs in their household and tosses the cracked bits in the trash out front.
Five s-words and one or two uses of “h—.” Someone spits out “oh my god” several times.
Because of his inability to talk (but only make moaning-like noises) some kids repeatedly call Oliver “moaner boner.”
Bullies repeatedly pick on Oliver because of his condition. And even his Mom lashes out at one point, wishing he could be “normal” for just a second. (She quickly apologizes.)
Horror movies can sometimes just be dumb. They end up indulging ridiculous narrative constructs that use screeching, shadow-crawling, beyond-belief thingies to make you jump and spill your popcorn.
But other horror pics, those that try a bit harder, use a certain splash of real-world subtext to dig down into the quivering parts of our subconscious. They tell a creepy story as an allegory for the very real scary stuff in our world.
Come Play, based on a 2017 horror short, slithers into that latter category with popping skeletal joints and nails-on-a-chalkboard demonic chittering. It raises the specter that perhaps all those screens in our lives—those time-sucking devices that we all know aren’t always good for us—may have something even more sinister lurking behind their glass. This movie suggests that our screens may be the windows and doors to our darkest nightmares and consuming fears.
In that light (or rather, darkness), this unsettling pic becomes something of an allegory about parenting and the challenges families face today when it comes to screen usage. That said, it also portrays a mom and dad struggling, even sacrificing themselves, to protect a defenseless charge. And in this case, he’s an autistic child who can’t even talk to express his fear or ward off danger. In the midst of that family terror, Come Play extols the goodness of loving parents and lauds the value of enduring family and friends.
Of course, this is still the tale of a beyond-belief netherworld thingie that can’t be stopped when the lights go out. And if that sounds like moviegoing torment, then let this review protect you.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.