Creepy children get downright brutal in the remake of a little known ’70’s import.
Cast: Vinessa Shaw, Ebon Moss-Bachrach
There is a school of thought dealing with storytelling in general, not just film, that isn’t comfortable at all with the idea that the storyteller doesn’t provide any answers to the questions they pose. There’s another school of thought that finds it perfectly valid to have a writer or film maker ask questions without giving answers, because it’s up to the audience to explore what they think and/or feel and make their own decision from there. My primary interest in a film is much more related to the kind of experience it provides while it’s actually being viewed. I can take either a story with some definite ideas about the answers to the questions it poses or something more ambivalent as long as the film as a whole is well made and does a good job of engaging the audience and enveloping them in the story, characters and plot. Whether or not I agree with what a film has to say is something different than whether or not I think the film itself is actually well made. I can disagree with the general message a film is trying to deliver, but still understand from an objective point of view that it is well made. I can also agree with the general message or central ideas driving a film and also recognize that it’s not particularly well made.
COME OUT AND PLAY definitely has some interesting questions to ask. Like the better horror films of the seventies, the point is to ask those questions without providing answers. It has a certain nihilism about it, but it’s not a a film that completely lacks compassion or humanity either. It has something to say about the human capacity for violence and the assumption of power. When the film reaches it’s conclusion, it definitely has the feel of a film from the seventies. This shouldn’t be a complete surprise since it’s actually a remake of a film called WHO CAN KILL A CHILD from 1976.
The plot follows a couple on vacation in an unspecified area where Spanish is the spoken language. Their third child is on it’s way and they’re taking one last holiday before the work of being parents to a newborn begins. There is an island close to where they are when the film begins, and the first few minutes are involved with Francis (the husband, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach) attempting to find a boat he can rent to reach it. He finally succeeds in finding someone who will take them over for their exploratory romp, and he and his wife (played by Vanissa Shaw) make the trip for the idyllic looking min-paradise. Once they arrive, they find the island is full of children, but can’t find any of the adults. Initially attributing the lack of adult supervision to local festival of the previous night, they quickly come to realize something more disturbing is actually occurring.
It gets off to a good start by effectively setting up a creepy atmosphere and tone in the first twenty minutes. It also deals well with making the turn in the story from suspense of the suggested and implied to the directly explicit. That particular moment is very effective in revealing the central conflict or horror of the film. From there COME OUT AND PLAY successfully ratchets up the tension as the story moves forward. The performances from all of the actors are serviceable, and the music/sound design work very well. The cinematography is crisp, and does a good job of framing the characters and the action, but on a few occasions, the choice to use nothing but high contrast and high contrast overexposure are problematic.
In a few of the more important moments of the film, it’s a little harder to sort out the action because of how dark the frame is. In this case, high contrast could definitely serve the story in certain ways, and in certain moments, but the way it’s used ends up making for a less interesting experience watching the film and for one or two moments of down right frustration. It’s either a pour choice during production or in post production, or in both, but it doesn’t actually help the film in the way it’s used. It may have served the film better to begin with a much more full, warm and lower contrast look, and moved slowly toward high contrast, over exposure aesthetic as the action and story unfold. It’s unfortunate, because the framing of the shots is great, and there are a few great sequences in the film that are disturbing and effective, but what you can’t see in the stark black of the shadows very literally and metaphorically overshadows the great composition of what could have been pretty iconic images. Makinov seems to have some great instincts as a story teller because he sets up and increases the tension extremely well and he approaches the story well overall on a visual level. He understands how to use the composition of an image to convey just about everything he needs in order to tell the story and to provoke an emotional response from the audience, but if this film is any indicator, he lacks some of the technical know how in relation to post production and the actual camera operation. This is a Makinov production, in total. He was the director, the cinematographer, writer, editor and producer. If he took on all of those roles as a financial consideration, it’s understandable, but if he’s taken on all of that work and responsibility out of the need for control or in service to his own ego, he will hopefully learn his lesson and hire a cinematographer on his next film.
The only other place the film lacks is in some of it’s scripting. There isn’t much character work, at all. It relies pretty heavily on the audience identifying with these characters as prospective parents, and on their revulsion at some of the acts committed, which definitely works, but it’s still light in it’s character building. The couple at the center of the story never really get beyond being generic and as horrible as the events in the film are, they could have carried a more definitive and undeniable punch if the audience had been given some more material to enable these characters to transcend that generic role.
The story moves to an effectively sad and deeply brutal ending that would cause a melt down with general audiences. This is not a film meant for the average multiplex crowd. It wears the degree of nihilism in it’s story with a little too much confidence for someone more adapted to the kind of horror films that grace multiplex screens. Not that those are any less nihilistic, I’d argue that these days they’re even mean spirited and nihilistic than this film, but they tend to be much more sly and all of that is implied or is something those films already attribute as a characteristic of the audience before they even start and aren’t interested in asking questions about. COME OUT AND PLAY is definitely interested in asking those questions, and does so in an interesting but unambiguous way without being patronizing. That ambiguity, coupled with it’s in your face brutality, especially given the content and the amount of violence involving very young children to one degree or another, would never sit well with the kind of audience that is much more accustomed films that have much less on their minds, much less to say or are much more willing to tell their audience exactly what they want them to think. There’s enough of the red stuff here for the gore hounds to not go away disappointed as well, but COME OUT AND PLAY is going to play best with those folks who are used to the sandbox that is art-house horror.
The short version of the story is that COME OUT AND PLAY is a decent film. It suffers from a few issues that keep it from reaching the potential that’s evident, but not enough to completely ruin the experience of seeing the film or to derail it from reaching it’s goal. It’s more self serious than some of the more camp and cult gore hounds are generally going to enjoy, and it’s absolutely not something a general audience is going to appreciate. They’re going to find it downright offensive and hate it thoroughly. For the art-house horror crowd, it’ll be a mostly satisfying use of an hour and a half that will give them a new director to keep an eye on and hope that his next feature doesn’t suffer from the same short falls that made this one of average quality when it’s evident the opportunity to make something much more than average was there.
COME OUT AND PLAY is currently available.
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