Scary movies are a Halloween tradition just like those pre-pandemic carved pumpkins, costume parades and Trick or Treat Night fun.
Just about everyone loves a good scary movie.
Something deep in our collective psyche craves fear, whether it’s derived from riding on a roller coaster or watching a slasher flick.
We are curious creatures, for sure.
We all have our top five favorites. It’s one of my favorite conversation starters every October.
People love rattling off their all-time scariest movies. The choices differ wildly depending on one’s gender, age, education, and level of movie geekiness.
You can learn a lot about someone from their Top Five Scariest Movie of All Time list.
Over the years, horror has evolved in the movie industry, from the early classics like Nosferatu (1922) through the classic Universal Pictures monster films Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Wolf Man (1941) to more modern-era classics like The Exorcist (1973), Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and on and on.
It’s a fascinating genre, always pushing the boundaries, particularly when it comes to blood and gore. To a large degree, we have George Romero to thank for that in Night of the Living Dead (1968).
But it’s not all about the shock factor.
Suspense is also a key element in many unnervingly scary movies. Often, it’s what you don’t see that frightens you.
But frightening you is what horror movies are meant to do.
Over the years, tried and true story elements and sure-fire scary scenes have become the stock and trade of filmmakers who specialize in the horror/suspense genre. Because they work, they are utilized time and time again.
Audiences don’t seem to mind, though the aficionados can spot the familiar setups a mile away. And even they will cut you some slack if you demonstrate some personal touch or sense of creativity.
For instance, having an alien creature aboard a spaceship is one thing. Having it make a bloodily splashy entrance by suddenly ripping out of someone’s heaving torso in full view of horrified crewmembers is something else entirely.
Come Play is an updated version of the demonic spirit horror theme. Instead of the ghosts in a haunted house tale, it’s about a newer form of evil presence that manifests itself in electronic devices—iPads, smart phones, televisions—that have become such a large part of our everyday existence.
It’s not an entirely original idea. There was that scary television in Poltergeist (1982) that made video “snow” seem terrifying and dreadful.
That movie also capitalized on the vulnerability of innocent children. There have been many.
Perhaps the most famous was Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation of Steven King’s best-selling novel The Shining. The twist was the supernatural ability to see things that others couldn’t see.
Other movies have cashed in on this storyline. In The Sixth Sense (1999) it was the little boy’s ability “to see dead people.”
Director/writer Jacob Chase introduces us to Oliver, a special young boy who is cute, lonely and autistic.
He is an unmistakable clone of the Danny character from Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) with an unmistakably similar face and haircut. It’s one of those casting choices that falls somewhere between heartfelt homage and blatant rip-off.
His psychological condition and his status as an outsider render him vulnerable to an evil presence who wants to escape the confines of a dark electronic existence by befriending this innocent young boy, whose favorite pastime is watching Sponge Bob Square Pants.
He’s an easy target since his communication skills are limited to a special hand-held device that allows him to create artificial speech.
He’s at a severe disadvantage in telling others about Larry, the entity that wants to befriend him and drag him into a strange alternate universe from which he can never escape.
The opening scenes of Come Play waste little time before diving straight into the scariness, without the customary story set-up or introduction of characters.
Traditionally, movies like this allow you to get to know the characters so that you feel some emotional connection with them when all hell begins to break loose.
It’s one of those tried and true story devices mentioned earlier. It may be old school, but it works.
Here, all that is withheld. Eventually we come to learn a little about Oliver and his parents.
His dad works overnight at a rooftop parking toll both that seems to do little or no business.
His mom (played by Gillian Jacobs) struggles with the pressures dealing with Oliver’s autism as well as her guilt for not addressing his condition at an earlier age. And she’s in the middle of a breakup with Oliver’s dad.
I’ve a fan of Gillian Jacobs ever since I saw her in the improv comedy (that is to say, a movie about improv comedy) called Don’t Think Twice (2016).
She’s a captivating, talented performer who has precious little to work with in Come Play, being relegated to playing the bewildered mom who slowly discovers that her son is being lured into a world of demonic darkness and unspeakable evil.
For the most part, Come Play is populated by stock characters caught up a series of horror/suspense cliches.
There are flickering lamps, exploding light bulbs, creepy crawl spaces, scary bedrooms.
Much of the movie takes place at night where the darkness itself becomes fearful.
Even the daylight scenes are gloomy and foreboding, underscoring the tone of underlying evil. We’ve seen it all before.
Further, there is the all-too-often, obligatory scene of mom grabbing a butcher knife from the kitchen, overused scenes of characters looking under the bed to see if something is lurking there and later hiding under that same bed to escape impending terror.
Admittedly, there are some nicely-rendered scenes of the monster (named Larry) but nothing that is above the norm of current digital creature effects. We’ve also seen his likes before.
Come Play really doesn’t really expand the horror/suspense genre much.
It’s not breakthrough. It’s not memorable.
It’s a movie content to cash in on all the things that frightened us in so many scary movies that we’ve all seen before.
Come Play opens in theaters October 30th.
By the way, if you’re curious about my top five scary movies, they are:
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead
Ridley Scott’s Alien