The Babadook goes paperless in “Come Play,” a thriller in which a spindly creature from another realm torments a child and his family through phone screens and tablets.
The monster’s name is Larry, and his deal, we learn from a nursery rhyme in a spontaneously manifesting e-book, is that he wants a friend. He has selected Oliver (Azhy Robertson, from “Marriage Story”), a boy with autism who does not speak — he uses a phone app to vocalize — and who, like Larry, is lonely. Oliver is bullied by his peers. His father (John Gallagher Jr.) moves out at the start of the movie. His mother (Gillian Jacobs) struggles with raising a child who has special needs.
Larry is nothing if not insistent. He shoves furniture and flickers lights. Clearly too much of a metaphor to maintain a material presence, he can only be seen when someone holds up a device in camera mode. There is a clever scene involving a laser distance meter. Larry’s home dimension may lack social-distancing guidelines, but he gets well within six feet of Oliver.
Expanded by the writer-director Jacob Chase from a short, “Come Play” feels secondhand in its overarching conceit, its scare tactics and even its sentimentality. (The film bears the logo of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin company and boils down to a Spielbergian message about the constancy of parental love. And while it may be a coincidence, Larry’s bony fingers resemble E.T.’s.) But it might be scarier watched on a tablet.