Come Play (CREDIT: Jasper Savage/Amblin Partners/Focus Features)

Starring: Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: Jacob Chase

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Spooks and Terror

Release Date: October 30, 2020

Did The Babadook fully sate our appetites for creepy bedtime story characters breaking out into the real world to spook a little boy and his mom? Come Play sure hopes that there’s room for one more! But it’s going to be very hard for it to avoid being referred to as “The Babadook, but the dad’s alive.” There’s even a moment when Gillian Jacobs echoes Essie Davis almost exactly when she shouts, “Can you just be normal for one second?!” There are some elements about Come Play that are worth recommending, although while I was watching them, I wondered if I was enjoying them mainly because of residual positive feelings for The Babadook. That’s far from the worst thing in the world, though. It’s at least better than resenting it for its resemblance.

The vibe of the game in Come Play is disconnection. Sarah (Jacobs) and her husband Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) have been struggling to communicate with their non-verbal autistic son Oliver (Azhy Robertson) his whole life. Really, though, it’s Mom who’s bearing the brunt of the struggle. It comes down to the typical split of household labor. Marty is mostly fine with the way Oliver currently talks, which is by pushing word buttons on a cell phone that vocalizes for him, but Sarah is constantly frustrated, partly because she spends a lot more time at home. Into this angst-filled situation crawls Oliver, a long-limbed creature on a tablet who would like his tale told to the end so that he can become a real monster who can be friends with Oliver forever and ever.

As Larry makes his presence more and more known, he spreads to Oliver’s parents and friends as a sort of supernatural infection. He’s like the Entity in It Follows or the certainty of death in She Dies Tomorrow: once you’ve been exposed, you cannot deny his existence. Voices of reason try to insist that this is just a case of powerful empathy with Oliver, which almost seems to be playing out as a sort of shared delusion. Of course, we know it’s not that, because the terms of the genre that we as audience have agreed to assure us that Larry is as real as any monster can be. But the emotional tethers that Oliver is attached to and the terror transported along them are quite telling. Larry represents and draws upon loneliness. Anyone lacking connection or fighting so hard to maintain an emotional bond is vulnerable. He can sting your heart, and that’s what really makes him memorable.

Come Play is Recommended If You Like: Horror Movies That Remind You of Other, Better Horror Movies But Still Have Enough to Say on Their Own

Grade: 3 out of 5 Legs