'Come Out and Play' takes a curiously straightforward approach to an unsettling horror
Come Out and Play Cinedigm
Screenplay: Makinov, based on the novel El Juego de los Niños, by Juan José Plans
Starring: Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Vinessa Shaw and Daniel Giménez Cacho
Rated R / 1 hour, 26 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
The more Come Out and Play reveals, the less interesting it gets, until finally it's abandoned all
mystery in favor of a cheap form of suspense and even cheaper sense of irony. What begins as a
genuinely chilling exercise in ambiguity and unspoken dread eventually devolves into a march
toward the inevitable.
Admittedly, that transition is partially unavoidable. The movie can't sustain the suspense of its
opening half-hour; otherwise it would be building toward nothing. Particularly in horror, that
shift - from ambivalence to fear, from not knowing to knowing - is the essential moment. It's
like when a performer in a balancing act shifts everything from his finger to his chin or nose; the
trick lives or dies in that moment.
In a horror film like this, the moment occurs when the characters discover what it is they're up
against - or, in some cases, discover that they're up against something at all. The hook in Come
Out and Play is that the monster is not an otherworldly presence or or creature or impossibly
strong assailant, but a pack of giggling, speechless children who've taken it upon themselves to
savagely murder every adult in sight.
So you can see how the tonal shift might be a tricky one to pull off.
What struck me about the film's strong opening act is the way it creates an impression of eerie
foreboding, even out of seemingly ordinary scenes. The main characters - an American couple
vacationing in South America during Carnival - aren't aware of it, nor does anyone else seem to
be. But throughout the introductory sequence, as Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) seeks out the
proprietor of a rental boat, we can't shake the feeling that he's headed somewhere he shouldn't
His intentions are innocuous enough; he and his pregnant wife Beth (Vinessa Shaw) just want to
get away from the mainland for a couple of days, so they rent the boat and ride over to Punta
Hueca, a remote island nearby.
Here the sense of strangeness begins to take root, as Francis and Beth arrive only to discover the
island town is almost completely abandoned, hardly a person in sight. There's no cashier at the
general store, no one tending the local bar, no one manning the concierge's desk at any of the
hotels. The only hint of civilization they come across are the occasional wandering children that
stroll by, none of whom ever says a word.
Only when Francis witnesses a young girl beating an
old man to death with his own cane does an atmosphere of full-on panic firmly take hold.
Though there's a brief hint at a loosely supernatural/metaphysical element to the children's
behavior, writer/director Makinov (who's also credited for the cinematography, editing and
sound design) by and large tries to avoid explaining anything or even contextualizing it in any
literal fashion. The strategy works (up to a point), as the general inexplicability of what is taking
place adds a layer of surreal mystery - a sense enhanced by the effective employment of
The problem, I think, is not following that impulse further. Given that Beth is very, very
pregnant, one can't help but see, in the film's premise, a not-so-subtle commentary on the fears
of children and parenthood. But unlike the abstractness of Eraserhead or the black comedy of
We Need to Talk About Kevin or the body horror of various fetal thrillers, Come Out and Play
plays it straight, reducing its premise to a series of utterly conventional scenarios in which
people do inexplicably stupid things when facing off against, or on the run from, an unspeakable
That the adults in the film face a moral dilemma of whether to attack the children - however evil
those children might be - is a key obstacle, but one that makes less sense the longer things move
Come Out is an adaptation of Juan José Plans' novel El Juego de los Niño (which I haven't read)
and unofficial remake of Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's 1976 grindhouse flick Who Can Kill a
Child? (which I haven't seen). I don't know in what direction either of those works took the
concept, but I would at least hope for a more interesting reading of the material than what we get
here. Come Out and Play's credits include a title card that dedicates the film to "the martyrs of
Stalingrad" - which is either an extremely pompous gesture or an extremely tongue-in-cheek
one. Judging by the self-seriousness of most of the film, I tend to lean toward the former.