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‘Come Play’ Pays Homage To the Spooky Amblin Tales of Yore

November 9, 2020
2 min read time

If you're looking to continue your spooky season during the spookiest year of them all, or you're an Amblin fan, Come Play is a worthy watch. The movie's writer-director Jacob Chase is living a filmmaker’s fairy tale; his short film Larry blew up the internet and was subsequently noticed by Steven Spielberg, leading to the full feature re-incarnation, Come Play.

The movie tells the tale of Larry, a lonely monster stuck in screens who can be freed when summoned. Larry is after Oliver, the autistic mute son of a young family whose parents' relationship, played by Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr., is falling apart. Larry just wants Oliver to be his friend, but still manages to create a significant amount of horror in the process.

Larry stemmed from an original creation of a practical monster for a haunted house. Chase dug his creation so much, he made a short around his practical creation. “I wanted to create a character as someone terrifying to look at, but also relatable. I think a lot of us can relate, unfortunately, to the feeling of being lonely. Ultimately, Larry just wants to find a friend,” Chase says.

The other real star of the film is Oliver, played by Azhy Robertson. Robertson was the first to be cast, after Spielberg sent Chase a tape for another role he was casting. Chase says they saw hundreds of young actors, but Azhy always stuck with him. “He just had so much empathy, and who am I to say ‘no’ to Spielberg, the master of casting kids?”

When casting Oliver’s parents, Chase said he loved that Jacobs and Gallagher Jr. got a chance to do something different than what they are known for. “They really responded to getting to interact with a nine-foot-tall puppet as Larry. They really just decided to go for it.”

And it shows. The family, the beating heart of the piece, is empathetic both in their struggle to defeat Larry, and to defeat the daily foes Oliver faces dealing with his autism.

It’s no wonder Chase was so apt at portraying the struggles of an autistic character. “My wife works with kids on the spectrum. I've had a window into that world for a while now,” Chase emphasized. I had Azhy shadow kids on the spectrum, as I wanted the portrayal to be as authentic and sensitive as possible.” Because the character of Oliver is mute, Chase said he often spoke for the character behind the camera as Oliver uses a tablet to communicate. “I would sometimes write the scene with dialogue for him and act it out that way first, and then take away the dialogue and he would convey the same emotion with just his eyes.” Robertson does a particularly good job at this when his parents argue around him. Every shot on Robertson reveals his character never misses a beat.

As the latest rising horror director, Chase offered some wise words for those trying to break through: “I loved getting scared as a kid in horror movies—Poltergeist and Jaws and a lot of the classics are quite scary, but not mean spirited, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to spread a niceness in the world.

"I also still consider myself an aspiring filmmaker," Chase admits. "but I would say the most important thing is caring about the characters. None of the horror devices matter if you don’t care about the people going through those experiences. Spend just as much time on the characters in the writing process as coming up with fun gags. I liked the family in this film so much that it became hard for me to put them through hell.”

Chase also admits his personal success story might currently look like monster magic, but he stresses above all else to never give up. “I know people might view my story of making a short film to shooting with Amblin in a matter of months as a huge thing to aspire to, but it was also 10 years of screenwriting and making things. I would say overall, myself and my friends, it’s not a matter of our talent that got us a breakthrough, it’s just doing the super hard work of writing.”

Regardless, Chase’s hard work is evident on the screen. He’s achieved an homage to an often lost genre in the world of thrillers; a movie you can sit down and watch with the whole family without blood and gore, but still illicit that scary feeling which can incite an important conversation. In fact, he’s gone beyond an homage and created something special and uniquely his own.

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