An exotic location, a pair of boorish and presumptive American tourists (is there any other kind?), an escalating chain of horrific events, a group of strangely murderous children; such are the basic materials of Come Out And Play.
These are fairly traditional tropes, and that’s the playground the movie is working in. Come Out and Play isn’t trying to rock the boat. The story is simple: a young married American couple, somewhat foolishly on an adventure vacation in Mexico while Beth (Vinessa Shaw) is pregnant, decide at Francis’s (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) insistence to take a motorboat across the sea to a remote island. Upon arriving at the island, the couple discover it completely deserted, except for the children, and few other survivors they encounter on the way. Francis and Beth soon discover that the island is deserted because the children are killers, and have been systematically and somewhat ritualistically slaughtering the adult population of their paradisiacal town for reasons unexplained and unhinted at. The film seems to want to drive towards a point about children destroying their parents, but by the time the story has climaxed in what must be one of the only cases of pre-natal matricide in the history of film, and follows it with a pseudo-viking funeral that is a rebuke to logic, any hope of thematic coherence is lost in the film’s numerous flaws.
Maybe this can be seen as one of the many ways the film, the work of the self-styled groundbreaking and revolutionarily-manifestoed (not to mention masked) director MAKINOV, whose name simply screams to be read in all-caps, adheres to the traditions of the horror genre.
Perhaps strangely, or perhaps not, the film is a remake of an earlier Spanish horror film titled Who Can Kill a Child? Further more, I have been informed by those who know better than me that the films is nearly a beat-for-beat remake, which makes the films ostentatious title card, which reads “Makniov’s Come Out And Play” and its end card “MADE BY M.A.K.I.N.O.V.” all the more puzzling. I think it’s fair to say that most directors of horror remakes, though they tend to emphasize their “bold new visions” of the properties they are recapitulating, have not claimed such total authorship of the material they are effectively reheating for a younger audience.
And maybe it would be better for his career if he had shuffled some of the responsibility to someone else, because ultimately it is his direction that sinks the film. The story is serviceable. The characters may act nonsensically, but what the hey, it’s a horror film isn’t it? Though the beats are predictable they have worked numerous times in the past. But it’s the way that Makniov covers them that’s the source of the problem. The whole film is done in a shaky faux-verite style that attempts to cover everything in sun-drenched wide shots that pan haphazardly from character to character and prevents any necessary tension from developing. Scene after scene there are moments that should be iconic, that should sear themselves into our brains and haunt our dreams, but instead simply happen…because Makinov doesn’t seem to know how to present them.
One thing he did do well was in casting his leads, who do admirable work with what they were given, but ultimately cannot save what they were thrown into. Unfortunately one way in which Makinov fails is in casting frightening children. Getting a bunch of terrifying kids seems essential to the success of any homicidal-mob-of-children story (See: Children of the Corn, Village of the Damned, etc.) but instead Makinov has assembled such a relentlessly normal group of children that I am forced to conclude he simply cast whatever kids happened to be hanging around the set each day. They simply are not frightening. Perhaps Makinov thought that filming any group of children performing acts of horrific violence would be terrifying, but in practice many of the scenes of kid-on-adult violence are actually quite hilarious. One scene that stands out in my memory features an innocent looking child secretly aiming a pistol at our besieged heroes with lethal intent about as convincing as my love for polka dancing.
It’s these kind of bizarre tonal problems that continually mar the film. They’re pervasive and touch everything from the score to the editing. One cut in particular, from a horrifically mauled corpse to a placid hotel lobby, was so abrupt that I actually burst out laughing. As such, it’s almost impossible to become invested in the film, which makes the logical inconsistencies, which I might otherwise forgive, into insurmountable roadblocks.
Why does a man who has just told us a story about watching his child participate in the brutal murder of his wife, suddenly trust and follow his child out into the street where he too is brutally murdered? How does a relatively small pack of children overpower all the adults in their town? How does a fetus kill its own mother from inside the womb? How does Francis manage to cremate his wife in a tiny jail cell without being roast like a turkey? Why don’t they simply kill the lunatic homicidal children at any of the many chances they get?
Well, the film does finally answer that question, in a scene that rather handily deals with the question “how many third graders can you take in a fight?” (answer: about a dozen) but by that point its hard to care. By the time moves to its abruptly nihilistic conclusion, again undercut by the bizarre notion that a bunch of sub-Lord-of-the-Flies youths could operate a military patrol boat, it’s even harder.
To be fair, the movie is honest. Unlike many major Hollywood horror productions, it doesn’t fail because it seeks to emulate the ragtag nature of an old exploitation films, it fails because it actually has the ragtag nature of an old exploitation. It fails because of hubris, not cynicism, and maybe there’s something admirable about that. As it is, I’m not sure I can recommend watching it. Maybe I can recommend it to the next generation of horror fans, huddled around whatever device they will watch movies on, as a kind of historical curio to be pondered.
Sadly, it didn’t have to be this way. The story is serviceable, the cast is capable. It could have been a taut and frightening, if unoriginal, horror romp. Maybe if the ever-mysterious Makinov had taken the bag off of his head at some point during the production, he might have seen that.