Fantastic Fest: ‘Come Out And Play’ Makes Us Suitably Terrified Of Children

By  · Published on September 30th, 2012

Everybody loves a nice vacation, but it can be difficult for parents, especially new parents, to make time for a quiet getaway. Understanding this problem, soon-to-be parents Beth and Francis take one last trip together before their baby is born. While traveling abroad, they are made aware of a remote island said to be among the most beautiful in the world. Upon arrival, they note the mysterious absence of any citizenry above the age of twelve. As they search for an adult, any adult, the reason for the island’s occupation by unsupervised children becomes horrifically clear. Then there’s the screaming. And the the running.

Let us immediately dispense with the obvious: kids are fucking terrifying; we all know that. There are few subsets of the horror genre as fundamentally unsettling as the killer kid movie. And these are not your average tykes; their inclination toward savagery rivals the very worst of their grownup counterparts. Horror films, for better or worse, and in defiance of detractors who seek to broad-stroke marginalize it, are often the most direct cinematic confrontation of our collective fears. Many titles have artfully and eloquently explored the fear of motherhood/parenthood – Rosemary’s Baby, Aliens (though admittedly more sci-fi), and 1976’s Who Can Kill a Child?

Come Out and Play is in fact a remake of Who Can Kill a Child, and the fact that it hasn’t lost a step in this over-35-years-later translation speaks to the universality of that fear.

Sure, in a more literal sense, Beth and Francis are afraid of being murdered by hordes of psychotic tots, but what’s really chasing them all through their vacation is the dramatic life upheaval that comes replete with a young couple having their first child. On some level it’s a morbid incarnation of the absolute worst case scenario in which your child turns out to be a murderer, but the concept of a child trying to kill an expectant mother is an expression of a primal fear of the pain of childbirth. This plays more directly into the narrative as well, but the more figurative aspects are maintained in Makinov’s remake.

It is also a horror movie in which, while deeply upsetting, its shocks are not cheap. The thematic violence is challenging on a social psychology level. Like its enigmatic director, Come Out and Play is masked by the change in title from the far more overtly theoretically accosting Who Can Kill a Child? Much like the original, the remake dares viewers to put themselves in the shoes of our protagonists, played with heartbreaking empathetic sincerity by Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Vinessa Shaw. Their actions seem heinous, but they beg hard questions of the viewers about their own capacity for violence in the face of certain death. The kill-or-be-killed instinct, a remnant of our neanderthal heritage, is tested and examined in vivid color and detail. This allows Come Out and Play to balance moments of fanbase-pleasing extremity with deeper, more substantial elements.

The still largely unidentified, red-hooded director known as Makinov infuses just enough style and flair to keep things moving in this single-setting horror tale. His cinematography is lovely, but much of the credit there is due the gorgeous Mexican locales in which he shot. Despite the foreknowledge of the pint-sized threat, the script still offers adequate twists and turns, but again it is largely beholden to Who Can Kill a Child? And once more, let us not shy away from the unrelenting truth that kids are in fact fucking terrifying.

Upside: Dark, troubling horror film that raises interesting sociological questions as well as occasionally playing to our baser genre proclivities.

Downside: Not great to watch if you’re a fan of children living to a ripe, old age.

On the Side: No one has ever seen Makinov’s face.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.