A review of the new horror thriller COME PLAY written and directed by Jacob Chase starring Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs & John Gallagher Jr.
Oliver Sutton (Azhy Robertson), a non-verbal eight-year-old on the autism spectrum, communicates by typing and drawing on screens. His parents Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) and Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) struggle to maintain their marriage while supporting Oliver’s unique needs. Lonely, and often bullied at school, Oliver really wants a friend. His isolation intensifies when his parents separate. He retreats even further into his screens.
When a children’s storybook called “Misunderstood Monsters” mysteriously shows up on his phone, Oliver begins reading it, discovering the story of a lonely creature named Larry. Oliver quickly realizes that the more he reads, the more Larry comes into the real world in search of a friend. Sarah becomes concerned as Oliver starts talking about the lanky 10-foot-tall creature named Larry on his phone. When his phone is thrown away by school bullies, the storybook and Larry reappear on Oliver’s tablet and the creature offers to protect Oliver from those bullies or any other monsters that might come his way.
Sarah arranges a slumber party at her house to help Oliver come out of his shell and play with other kids, but Larry materializes and terrorizes everyone. Sarah finally sees Larry for herself. As Larry’s pursuit of Oliver’s friendship crosses the line from aggressive to dangerous, Sarah and Marty must overcome their differences to protect their son, ultimately realizing that there is only one way to appease Larry and save Oliver. This powerful story about love and friendship stars newcomer Azhy Robertson (Marriage Story, Juliet, Naked), Gillian Jacobs (“Love,” “Community”), and John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush), and co-stars Jayden Marine, Winslow Fegley, and Gavin MacIver Wright.
Based on his short horror film, Come Play is written and directed by Jacob Chase. The Picture Company’s Alex Heineman (A Million Little Pieces, The Gunman) and Andrew Rona (A Million Little Pieces, The Gunman) produce. Alan Blomquist (Book Club, A Dog’s Purpose) serves as executive producer. Production designer David Bomba (A Million Little Pieces, Mudbound), director of photography Maxime Alexandre (Shazam!, The Nun), costume designer Marcia Scott (Downsizing, A Simple Favor) and editor Gregory Plotkin (Get Out, Happy Death Day) complete the creative team. [Focus Features]
(L to R) Gavin Maciver-Wright as “Zach”, Winslow Fegley as “Byron”, Azhy Robertson as “Oliver”, and Jayden Marine as “Mateo” in writer/director Jacob Chase’s COME PLAY. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features
(L to R) John Gallagher Jr. as “Marty”, Azhy Robertson as “Oliver” and Gillian Jacobs as “Sarah” in writer/director Jacob Chase’s COME PLAY. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features
The Origins of Come Play
Jacob Chase’s fascination with horror began as a child with live haunted attractions. He remembers begging his mother to take him to Universal Horror Nights when it first opened. “I went in through the first door and was crying so hard I said, ‘Get me out of this, I have to go,’ and Mom took me out through the emergency exit,” recalls Chase. “The next day I had to go back and became hooked on the feeling of being terrified.” Halloween became such a favorite that he eventually started a business making his own haunted houses with friends. His experience with haunted houses was instructive. “I learned so much about what it means to create suspense in a live atmosphere and then brought that experience into the film world.”
After making a series of short films with friends, Chase had a career breakthrough when he won the 2016 Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl ad contest with “Doritos Dogs.” His commercial aired during the Super Bowl, earned him an exclusive directing mentorship under Zack Snyder on the set of Justice League, and Jacob used the prize money to finance a short film called Larry. Chase’s inspiration for the short came from his love of complicated antagonists. “I had this idea for Larry, a monster who’s lonely and all he really wants is a friend but goes about getting one in very scary ways.” The short also explored the connection between technology and loneliness. “That aspect of it is very closely tied to Larry because he’s a monster that comes from loneliness, and technology can be amazing but the way we use it can also lead to loneliness,” adds Chase. “It made sense to me that Larry was a manifestation of our modern technology.”
Chase wanted to make a genre film using today’s tools. “Technology plays a huge part in this film because it’s around us everywhere,” says Chase. The challenge was how to take what works in horror movies and update it. “It’s not about someone hacking you or about weird coding,” continues Chase. “It’s essentially the new delivery device, with the tablet and phone as the new version of the haunted house.” Chase’s short came to the attention of Alex Heineman and Andrew Rona, producing partners in The Picture Company, who are big fans of high concept genre movies. “Looking at the short film, we knew that Jacob had a real vision and that the short needed to be turned into a movie,” says Heineman. The producers were particularly impressed with the way Chase blended aspects of horror with technology. “His use of technology didn’t feel forced or make the short entirely about technology; it was just a component of the story he was telling.”
Chase attended his first meeting with the producers armed with an outline for a feature version of what would become Come Play. The expanded story centered on Oliver, a friendless young boy on the autism spectrum, who connects with Larry via his devices. It also established a rich emotional core by introducing Oliver’s parents, Sarah and Marty, and expanded on Larry’s origins and his motives. These details confirmed Heineman’s initial impression about the short’s potential, and he and Rona decided to begin seeking production partners.
Their first instinct was to reach out to Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners. As Heineman explains, “Amblin produced Goonies, the original Poltergeist, and Gremlins. Also, Steven Spielberg is the one who is really responsible for creating this genre in a way, especially horror movies with a family component. We have a strong relationship with Amblin and immediately thought this would be a perfect film for them.” For Chase, there couldn’t have been a more perfect collaborator. “I grew up on Amblin movies and they weren’t afraid to scare children,” explains Chase. “And so, the idea of making a film that’s scary for both children and adults, it just felt like there was no better place. And of course, the idea of working with Steven Spielberg is absolutely insane.” Alan Blomquist joined the team as executive producer and, with the other filmmakers, started to assemble the creative team to support and execute Chase’s vision. Production designer David Bomba was an early and easy pick. During their first conversation Bomba and Chase were both intrigued by the potential for their collaboration. Chase liked Bomba’s ideas about how to infuse reality into the story. “He took my concept for this whole world and had incredible ideas of his own of how to bring it to life,” he recalls.
Grounding the film in the quotidian details of ordinary life was essential, Bomba adds. “If we want to believe this story about a fantasy creature, then everything else in that world – the school, the house and the field – has to be real. That allows us to accept the idea of Larry.” Chase was already familiar with the work of director of photography Maxime Alexandre, whose credits include Annabelle: Creation and Maniac. “Maxime has shot a lot of my favorite horror movies of the last 20 years,” says Chase. “He’s an incredible DP and so I was super stoked to get him.” Chase, Bomba, and Alexandre all agreed that Come Play is a story about real people dealing with an otherworldly creature, and that the fantastical elements needed to be balanced with reality and proceeded planning to make it work.
One of the first decisions made was to build Oliver’s house as a set on a soundstage. That enabled Bomba to design according to Chase’s script rather than having to adapt the script to a practical location. “We were able to actually build what I was imagining,” Chase comments. “I was able to explain to David all these very specific blocking moments in the script and then he designed the blueprint for this incredible house. It’s exactly like what it was in my head – only better because David did it.” Blomquist adds, “It allowed us to have more flexibility and functionality by creating a layout that took into account the space the crew and puppeteers would actually need.” [Focus Features]
(L to R) Writer/director Jacob Chase, actor Gillian Jacobs and actor Azhy Robertson on the set of COME PLAY. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features
John Gallagher Jr. as “Marty” in writer/director Jacob Chase’s COME PLAY. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features
Azhy Robertson (left) stars as “Oliver” and Gillian Jacobs (right) stars as “Sarah” in writer/director Jacob Chase’s COME PLAY, a Focus Features release. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features
Gillian Jacobs (left) stars as ‘Sarah’ and Azhy Robertson (right) stars as ‘Oliver’ in writer/director Jacob Chase’s COME PLAY. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features
Azhy Robertson stars as ‘Oliver’ in writer/director Jacob Chase’s COME PLAY. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features
COME PLAY by writer/director Jacob Chase. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features