Come out and Play almost achieves a chilling creepiness, compounded by a 2012 R rating’s permissiveness. But in a single moment, “chilling” becomes “exploitive,” “defensible” becomes “contemptible,” and a willing audience becomes a roomful of chumps.
A couple traveling in Mexico rent a boat to go to an island called Punta Hueca (“hollow point” - take your pick on the meaning). When they arrive they find out all of the adults are gone and all of the children are creepy. Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Vinessa Shaw keep us on the edge of our seats as they explore the haunted village. They slowly discover that the children have killed almost all of the adults, and that our two protagonists — including the pregnant wife — are alone among the killers.
The movie’s setup seems overly long — it’s about 50 minutes before Beth and Francis meet meet someone who knows what’s happening, and another 20 minutes before the slow-simmering tension starts to come to a head. The movie needs tighter editing, but it tries to make do with heavier music on the soundtrack. Still, a good premise and some deliberately slow revelations keep a forgiving audience engaged.
After all, there are some really good horror ideas here. If our protagonists kill the children, how can we consider them protagonists? Good people don’t kill children — probably not even in self defense. Yet at some point if you are being attacked, you must fight back, no matter who is attacking you. That’s a creepy-as-hell premise and worthy of a good horror film.
Based on a 1976 Spanish horror film, Come out and Play is made by writer/director “Makinov,” who seems to be using his pseudonymity as a marketing ploy. My own pet theory is that Makinov (or his predecessor) made a bet that he could write a screenplay that ended with a white man beating to death a brown boy on an island resort and still make his audience sympathize with the white man. It’s a pretty damned amazing feat, but in order for that truly horrible outcome to work, the story has to be perfect. Come out and Play walks a fine line — will the audience be devastated by the Sophie’s-Choice-on-sterioids scenario, or will they be punk’d by a self-promoting filmmaker trying to score cheap points?
Unfortunately, all of the film’s qualities disappear into irrelevance when Makinov’s screenplay tears a gaping hole in its own rules. The scene in question wants to be a horror climax. But it goes too far and breaks the laws of the universe that the movie had established. Plausibility gets up to leave the theater, along with our emotional investment in the troubling and creepy scenario.
Not to say too much, but the children of Punta Hueca never had superpowers — they just used whatever was at hand to kill the adults. What had changed was not their abilities, but their moral compass. That’s a great idea, one that also worked for Lord of the Flies and Village of the Damned. But when for the sake of a gratuitous bloodbath, the youngest child gains super strength, the social relevance disappears, the chilling idea disappears, and we’re left with, ultimately, a disgusting, child-exploiting slasher film without the backbone to justify the horrific ending.
I suppose it’s possible that that’s exactly what Makinov was going for — making his audience endure child torture without any redeeming social merit. But a little more thought and care could have given him a defensible position and allies in the audience. Instead, Come out and Play plays its audience for chumps.