What’s the Matter with Kids Today? by Tyler Smith
Though it may not immediately seem like it, the key to great horror is relatability. We need to be able to relate to our main characters. We don’t necessarily have to like them, but we do have to understand them and why they do the things they do. They are our stand-ins; the normal people that represent the mentality of the audience.
You can have the most outlandish premise in the world and we will believe it if we have a protagonist who reacts to his circumstances the way we would. His skepticism is ours, and we will thus eventually come to accept the story just as he does.
The problem with this is that there are some horror movies that are so focused on the execution of premise that they forget to sell us on that premise. Perhaps they get wrapped up in symbolism and theme. Maybe they choose to emphasize the visuals and general tone. No matter what the element is, the fact remains that we either don’t believe what’s going on, or we simply don’t care.
Such is the case with Makinov’s Come Out and Play, a mostly-effective thriller about an island of murderous children. Makinov does such a good job of establishing a mood that I was really excited to get further and further into the dread. When a young couple takes a boat to a remote island for a vacation, they discover that there are no adults around; only children. They soon come to find out that the children have killed the adults. No particular reason. They just all woke up one day with the urge to maim and giggle. This story is told by last living parent on the island.
But, wait a second! Children are small and adults are big. Adults can drive cars and shoot guns. And, considering that it takes two adults to make one child, the grown-ups have numbers on their side, too. How did these kids manage to kill every adult on the island?
“Who could ever hurt a child?”
And with that the movie lost me. An entire island of people are slaughtered because they are squeamish? These children are shown playing with severed heads and we are to believe that at least a handful of adults couldn’t band together and head this off?
I know it seems like a strange objection and it’s clear from the way this information is presented that the inability of the adults to kill their pint-sized tormentors is meant to be poignant. And yet more than anything this revelation caused me to lose sympathy with the adults and, in doing so, lose any engagement I had with the film. After that point, it really just seemed like a series of events that I was watching from a distance, unmoved by the proceedings.
Certainly, there are some fascinating moments, as when a pregnant woman discovers that the child she is carrying is also being affected by this odd strain of fledgling bloodlust. Then there is a glorious moment when one of our protagonists decides he has had enough and starts shooting, stabbing, and smashing. He does everything that we the audience would do, regaining our sympathy in the process. Sadly, this comes very late in the film and, by then, my interest was mostly gone.
Come Out and Play does contain a number of good qualities and is positively bursting with thematic elements. It touches on the modern notion of children’s desensitization to violence, depicting the children as joyous and content while covered in blood. It also toys with the idea of the oppression of childrearing. As our main couple is expecting their first child, we somehow feel as though this island is a physical manifestation of their fear; that this child will ruin their lives and, quite literally, be the death of them. Being a childless husband myself, I sometimes wonder- and shudder- at how different my life will be once I become a father. In many ways, it is as though my previous self will cease to be and I will exist only to serve the needs of this child.
To be sure, this film contains a lot of thought-provoking material. But, in the end, I found myself listless, watching characters I couldn’t connect to do things I didn’t agree with. I recognize that this is fairly par for the course for most horror movies, but Come Out and Play has just enough good qualities as to raise my expectations. So much so that when it becomes very similar to most average thrillers, I was extremely disappointed.