Evil children make shitty antagonists. It’s a lazy dichotomy to say, “Look! The faces of the innocent and pure are doing horrible acts of violence! HOW CAN THIS BE?” But they shouldn’t be threatening to any adult. You can’t be scared of anything you can dropkick. Come Out and Play (a remake of the 1976 Spanish horror film Who Can Kill a Child?) tries to up the fear by having the children be a tiny, angry mob rather than a solo threat, but the film’s true potential lies in trying to provide a set of conditions where we can condone, and perhaps even enjoy, killing bad seeds. Sadly, writer/director/shameless-self-promoter Makinov never wants to put in the hard work to meet this challenge. Instead, he spins his wheels, makes half-hearted attempts at various subtexts, and is left with a wasted opportunity to do anything beyond The Birds but with kids.
Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and his seven-months-pregnant wife Beth (Vinessa Shaw) are vacationing in South America. They decide to take a boat to an island for some relaxation, but when they get there, they find the small town seemingly deserted. Eventually, they discover that all the adults have been brutally murdered by a horde of children, and now the couple has to find a way to escape before they’re killed by a mob of pre-adolescents who aren’t tall enough to go on the rides at Disneyland.
Makinov would rather sell Makinov than tell a good story. He wears a red sack on his head to mask his face and disguises his voice so he can be anonymous, and yet at my screening, we were handed pins with the word “Makinov” on them. He knows that Come Out and Play will be marketed by showing the murderous children, but he wastes his audience’s time through labored foreboding, and even then the film drags its feet to get to the foreboding. Come Out and Play spends what feels like ten minutes just to watch Francis track down a boat to go to the island.
When we finally see the children, they’re not really children. For all intents and purposes, they’re small, dead-eyed people who arouse absolutely no sympathy. They may as well be zombies, mutants, or any other acceptably-killable mob. The notion of “Who could kill a child?” implies killing a real child, not a miniature malevolent person. To his credit, Makinov doesn’t bother explaining why the children have gone evil, which means there’s no way to turn them good again. However, they convey no innocence, doubt, or any trace of humanity, so we’re just waiting for Francis and Beth to wise up and smash some heads. All credit goes to Shaw and Moss-Bachrach’s performances for helping us to see the situation from their characters’ point of view, and conveying some sense of a self-conflict a person would feel in this scenario.
Makinov has a chance to build on their dilemma by showing how the two parents wrestle with the notion of killing a child in self-defense. But we never really get to see Francis and Beth behaving as parents beyond a phone call to their children. Beth may be carrying around a seven-month-old fetus, but all she’s really carrying around is a symbol. It’s their third child, the parents are about to be outnumbered by their offspring, and Oh! I get it! It’s a half-developed concept designed to convey sense of dread, but it never delivers an emotional impact.
Similarly, the fact that Francis and Beth are white while all of the evil children are Hispanic could make the case for the first-world’s exploitation of third-world countries, particularly unseen children who work in crappy conditions but we don’t care because they make cheap goods. It’s the beginning of a clever idea, but with no follow through. Makinov is content to bring up an idea, and then he leaves it on the ground so he can let his one-note score and occasional gore try to bring some energy to his languid horror flick.
Come Out and Play fails to engage its audience morally, emotionally, or intellectually. It’s simply a thoughtless, ugly movie where the best thing it can offer is appealing to the twisted bloodlust of some of its audience members (like me) who want to see stupid, one-dimensional evil children finally get their come-uppance. And we’re forced to travel a dull, heartless, road just so we can finally reach a moment of catharsis that makes us laugh even though Makinov would like us to consider a dark, painful world dreamt up by a whiny child passing as a filmmaker.
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