Children make for some of the best film villains, especially in horror movies. Children have no moral compass, and their cruelty knows no bounds. Moreover, they are above suspicion and adults are conditioned to never harm them. So the idea of a handful of adults trapped in a city wholly populated by homicidal children lends itself to all kinds of physical and psychological dilemmas. Come Out and Play capitalizes on this essential drama, but some issues prevent the film from reaching its true potential.
While on vacation, a young couple, Francis and Beth (Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Vinessa Shaw), decides to make their holiday even more memorable by spending time on a beautiful, but remote island. When they get there, however, the couple quickly realizes that something is amiss since they can’t find any adults. The only people around are children. A panicked, unintelligible voice crackles over the island’s radio at regular intervals, but it’s not until Francis witnesses the brutal murder of an old man at the hands of children that the real terror sets in. With no direct way to leave the island, can he and his very pregnant wife survive until help arrives?
There are several factors that are needed to make any horror film successful, and Come Out and Play handles all exceedingly well. The location is far away from any help, so it’s up to the survivors to take care of the problem. There is a constant and imminent threat by way of the swarm of children. The emptiness of the streets touches on primal fears of loneliness and abandonment. Couple all of those factors with the natural creepiness of a smiling, giggling child as he or she walks by, and audiences get a disquieting, atmospheric movie that will raise hairs on arms and necks. There’s even a fair amount of gore, which is disappointingly rare in modern horror films. Unfortunately, Come Out and Play falls short of being scary.
The children are simply not intimidating enough to strike fear in the hearts and minds of viewers. Except for one mean-faced child early on, most of the children are standard post-toddlers and pre-teens. They aren’t blessed with enhanced strength or speed or claws or fangs – they’re just kids. Most don’t even have any weapons. So when a healthy, grown man somehow falls prey to a group of children half his size, it strains disbelief that he would just lay on the ground while they kick him with their little feet.
The children are obviously not professional actors. So when they burst through a door to get at an adult in hiding, the children do so with little objective other than to get through the door as directed. There’s that little bit of motivation that actors look for and add to their performances that is missing here.
Fortunately, writer/director Makinov plays to the children’s strength, which is to simply be kids. And without adults to guide them, children don’t understand that certain acts should be repulsive. So when children poke their hands inside a corpse’s chest cavity, it’s out of curiosity. When they slide a bloody head around a table, it’s a game. All in all, these are disgusting moments and are a few of the highlights in the film.
Viewers should prepare themselves to watch children be brutalized and killed as Francis and Beth do what they must to survive. The violence against the children never feels gratuitous, and is wholly organic to the story, but considering recent events in the United States regarding child deaths, it may be received poorly. However, if viewers can accept Come Out and Play as simply a crafted work of fiction, then they’ll be pleasantly surprised by this eerie film.