Written by: Makinov (screenplay), Juan Josť Plans (novel)
Directed by: Makinov
Starring: Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Vinessa Shaw
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďI mean...who can kill a child?"
Come Out and Play has a bookended insistence that itís the work of enigmatic filmmaker Makinov. Its opening titles declare it to be Makinovís Come Out and Play, while the film closes with a bold stamp: "made by Makinov." And itís a good thing these reminders exist considering the credits are the only point that the film seems to have been the passion project of a singular filmmaker who served as its writer, producer, DP, editor, and director. As the film wears on, however, the film reveals itself to be an undercooked retread that one might expect to hail from a Hollywood studioóif you didnít know any better, you might mistake this for Platinum Dunesís polished update of Who Can Kill a Child? Indeed, Makinovís pride becomes a bit absurd and smacks of a cover band being really proud of its ability to replicate its act with little to no real ingenuity.
Like Narciso Ibanez Serradorís 1976 cult favorite, Come Out and Play is technically an adaptation of Juan Jose Planís The Childrenís Game, and it cuts right to the chase. A vacationing, expectant American couple (Vinessa Shaw and Ebon Moss-Bachrach) have retreated to festive Mexico, where revelry teems through the streets and hangs in the skies. In an effort to find a more tranquil place, the duo rent a boat and head off to a remote island. Their wish is granted in a perverse fashion: not only is the island tranquilóitís eerily silent, almost sort of a ghost town. The hotels are empty, as are various other establishments. Save for a handful of a children flittering through the streets, theyíre seemingly all alone.
Those kids are also acting suspiciously weird, though; for one thing, theyíre all but unresponsive and seem to be off in their own world (as kids are wont to be, I suppose). The film then teases out its mystery in the same deliberate fashion as its predecessor, with Shaw and Moss-Bachrach poking about desolate streets and vacant buildings until one of the little girls bludgeons an old man to death in startling fashion. Well, startling if you havenít seen Who Can Kill a Child?, anyway. From there, Come Out and Play becomes a languid retread of Serradorís original movieóweíre not talking shot-for-shot, Gus Van Sant style stuff, but itís certainly beat for beat and lifts wholesale exchanges (so Makinovís screenplay credit becomes less and less impressive as the movie wears on). Instead, this one earns its place alongside the Quarantines and the Omens of the world, the revisits that basically tossed on a new coat of paint and called it a day.
I know, I knowóitís not exactly fair to solely judge a remake on these terms. Itís just that Come Out and Play aggressively invites these sort of comparisons because itís so beholden to its predecessor and leaves me fumbling for the point behind it all. Makinov could certainly choose worse targets for a redux: Who Can Kill a Child? isnít exactly a sacred cow, and, even if it were, itís a pretty rich concept to mine without resorting to such a lifeless Xerox. Even if it had taken the Aja route of tacking on an ultraviolent third act to its mostly familiar proceedings a la The Hills Have Eyes, it could have justified itself. As it stands, though, itís just one of those weird curiositiesósure, you could watch this one, and it might even be appealing if youíve never seen the original, but itís just a lesser companion piece at best, particularly since it doesnít improve the original in any noticeable way.
Sure, itís nice and sleek, brought to life by some striking handheld photography that snakes and lingers through the incongruously gorgeous locales. When the film is interested in its slow burn approach, thereís some decent mounting dread aided by the positively eerie, synth-flavored score. Shaw and Moss-Bachrach also make for capableóif not thinly-sketchedóleads that have little more to do than react to the creeping madness that surrounds them. The situation has some inherently disturbing implications that get glossed over; in the original, the title captured the anguish of a fucked-up situation. Here, the violence perpetrated towards the children is obligatory and ordained by the filmís commitment to sticking to the beat.
The filmís general leanness (it clocks in about 25 minutes shorter than the original) might be a boon if it ever had much of a pulse; instead, it just stays perpetually even-keeled, even as itís technically escalating to disturbing levels. Any deviations from the expected path are minor and cosmetic: some of the gore is a little bit more explicit, and the kids have changed from a low-key hive mind to a more overtly disturbing horde, sort of like the infected from 28 Days Later (again, even if this were exploited more, this could be the turbo-charged, gore-soaked analogue to Dawn of the Dead and its remake).
Itís usually not a good sign when a filmís production is more interesting than the film itself, but this is one of those cases. If you havenít figured it out by now, Makinov is a bit of a personality. Not only does he insist on going by one name, but he also insisted on keeping his identity a secret throughout the production by wearing a mask the entire time. For the sake of this entire endeavor, itíd be amusing if he revealed himself to be a critically-lauded guy and only bothered with this to test out the Emperorís New Clothes theoryóI imagine if he werenít just some oddball who decided to remake an obscure 70s Spanish horror film but someone with some critical goodwill, itíd play a little differently (sort of like how itís tough to completely dismiss Van Santís Psycho because heís Gus Van Sant). Maybe Come Out and Play is an ironic commentary about soulless recyclingóagain, itíd be easy to mistake this for any number of hollow remakes that have gussied up grimy exploitation films (thereís something incredibly sterile about this film thatís at odds with its roots). If the whole thing were a gag in that vein, itíd be at least a little intriguing, even if one would have to lean on a lot of assumptions and extra-textual nonsense.
As it stands, though, itís just a hollow, baffling effort that reflects the surface but not the guts of the film it inspired it. While the original is primarily an exploitation movie, it features some admittedly unsubtle attempts to ground its violence into a thought-provoking context that explores the fatalistic nature of violence. Come Out and Play is just another creepy kid movie that perhaps reveals how exhausting on-screen violence has becomeóback in í76, the original felt incredibly transgressive and taboo, while its update 40 years later just seems like old hat (hey, maybe thatís the pointóas you can tell, Iím really reaching for a point behind this madness). You can decide for yourself now that Cinedigm and New Video have released the film on Blu-ray; the film itself may not be completely satisfying, but its presentation is well done thanks to a sparkling high-def transfer and an ambient DTS-MA track that captures the eerie, quiet desolation of the filmís setting. Extras include a few minutes of deleted and extended scenes, a making-of featurette, and some cast interviews, none of which really illuminate the thought process behind the film (which usually wouldnít bug me, but Iím really intrigued by this particular attempt). Admittedly, revisiting Who Can Kill a Child? just before watching Come Play With Me wasnít the best of ideas (talk about dťjŗ vu), but, then again, neither was the decision to slavishly remake it in the first place. Rent it!
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