Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Assuredly creepy "Come Out and Play" acts as a good contraceptive

Come Out and Play (2013)
95 min., not rated.

In the sweepstakes of innocence-gone-malevolent horror films (1960's and 1995's "Village of the Damned," 1980's and 2008's "The Children," 1981's "Bloody Birthday," and 1984's "Children of the Corn," just to name a few), "Come Out and Play" is an assured little creeper. A scene-for-scene remake of the obscure 1976 cult item "Who Can Kill a Child?" (both based on Juan José Plans' novel "El juego de los niños"), this low-budget film displays some early talent from elusive first-time filmmaker Makinov (who actually hides behind a mask even in front of his actors), taking it upon himself to write, direct, produce, edit, and score his feature debut.

Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and his seven-months-pregnant wife Beth (Vinessa Shaw) are away from their two kids on a romantic getaway in Mexico. They rent a boat and leave the mainland to go to an island called Punta Hueca. The village seems a little too secluded. Aside from some kids on the dock and others turning up here and there, there isn't a person in sight. Francis says they must have just celebrated Carnival so they're all sleeping off their hangovers, but then dead bodies start showing up. It seems the islander children are more hell-bent on killing adults than playing. What is going on? Will Francis and Beth kill a child to survive?

After ten minutes pass and the couple is on their way to the island, the opening credits finally come up with "Makinov's 'Come Out and Play'" in big, red and bold letters that take up the whole screen. It seems a little self-congratulatory, not only by crediting himself with one name, but for a mostly solo effort, one can see much promise ahead. Makinov builds tension quite naturally at an unhurried pace, aided by his pulsing, ominous experimental score with echoes of "Halloween," and refreshingly refrains from easy jump scares. There is some disturbing use of gore (one girl drapes a necklace of ears and fingers around her neck and a laughing group of children play with a severed head) but it's restrained, even compared to mainstream standards. 

Playing as a vacation nightmare, "Come Out and Play" is stark, nasty, and quite tense in spots. Naturally acted by Moss-Bachrach and Shaw, Francis and Beth are root-worthy gringo protagonists whom we hope can put aside their parental instincts and do away with the evil tykes to escape. Without entering silly schlock territory, the film is minimal on exposition, although there does seem to be a powerful force taking hold of the children. In the early going, a scene where one of the island girls puts her head and hand to Beth's pregnant belly is quietly tense, regardless if the mute child harms Beth's unborn child right then and there. Much of this works up a head of dread-filled steam but loses it too soon. Downbeat and uncompromising, the finale tips its hat to the classic "Night of the Living Dead," and that's a good thing indeed. Overall, if it doesn't disturb or scare from being so familiar, this well-shot, stripped-down effort still acts as an effective form of birth control.

Grade: B - 

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