This is the first film to be made and released by a Belorussian born, self-styled auteur who calls them-self ‘Makinov’ -- a made up name for a bizarre figure who refuses to reveal who he (or she?) really is, and who apparently even wears their red hood disguise when they’re directing (as well as when issuing their video ‘manifestos’ on YouTube) in order to maintain the ‘film director’ persona they prefer to broadcast to the world; this figure also withholds his/her true identity from the actors and the crew employed in the making of their films, not to mention from the general public. I mention the fact that "Come Out And Play" is this person’s first film, simply because if you didn’t know any better you might be inclined to think from the manner in which this Makinov character emblazons their pseudonymous moniker across the titles and end credits of the movie in huge block capitals, that they were some kind of big name director that everybody else was already aware of, but whose existence evidently somehow managed to pass you by while you were engaged in the inspection of your navel fluff, or something equally more worthwhile than watching this film turned out to be. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the movie technically, you understand. No, this is a perfectly competently made attempt at producing what turns out to be a standard issue fright flick and an addition to the killer kiddie sub-genre which often benefits from a brooding ambient score full of washes of atmospheric electronica incorporating edgy analog synth noises (the most memorable thing about the film, as it happens). The reason the release has got me so riled, though, is because this Makinov -- who is not only its director but also the editor, cinematographer and sound engineer too – appears to be such a self-aggrandising self-publicist that they can’t resist implying, both in the presentation of the movie itself and in interviews where they talk about the ideas behind the film, that this entire project was all somehow their own idea, when almost anyone who might be inclined to watch it in the first place will soon be made more than aware that it is in fact nothing but a thoroughly unremarkable remake of Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s excellent “Who Can Kill A Child”.
The film’s IMDb entry mentions Juan José Plans’ novel "El juego de los niños” as a source, but that came after Serrador’s film and was a novelisation based on the writer-director’s screenplay, which expanded on the film slightly by providing an explanation for why the original movie’s tearaway tots turn evil and start slaying the adults who live on a picturesque holiday island (originally set just off the coast of Spain, but here transported to an atoll near Mexico). It’s Serrador’s film and screenplay which should be getting the acknowledgement here, particularly as how Makinov doesn’t add one single new element, from the subsequent novelisation or by his own invention, that’s of any real consequence. In fact, this is the most slavish and uninspired remake I’ve ever seen of anything outside of Gus Van Sant’s version of “Psycho” -- and that was deliberately conceived as a shot-for-shot copy of a masterpiece, originally undertaken as an artistic project, so it doesn’t count.
That wasn’t the case with this movie, though: yet Makinov simply cantors through exactly the same set up as the original, which conveys exactly the same collection of scenes, unspooling in the same order and in similar looking sets and locations, while often using identically framed shots that add nothing but a few extra dabs of gore and some slightly more visceral violence here and there. This is such a lazy and uninspired remake that the screenplay doesn’t even bother to concoct an excuse for why the two stranded protagonists can’t use their mobile phones or the Internet to communicate with the outside world and send for help, at any point -- obviously not a problem for Serrador’s 1976 original, but this version continues with the original’s now-anachronistic short-range-CB-radio-with-bad reception subplot as though this still made any sense in 2013. Someone might of at least had the nous to insert a line somewhere in the script explaining that these events are taking place in the 1970s or something … that is, seeing as how they obviously couldn’t be bothered with a more elaborate re-write; but even this small detail was too much trouble, apparently. No wonder many of the reviews of this film by younger viewers, unaware of the original, seem utterly perplexed by its crude logical oversights!
In other ways this retread even loses a lot of the ominous build-up established by its predecessor: the bodies that are already seen to be washing up on the beach of the mainland resort that the American protagonists are holidaying in at the start of the original film are gone in this version, and instead we begin with Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s character, Francis, scouting Mexican bars for a local tradesman willing to rent he and his pregnant wife Beth (Vinessa Shaw, “The Hills Have Eyes” ) their boat for a few days so as to enable them to reach a nearby island by the name of Punta Hueca. In the original, the husband had grown up on the island in question, but this isn’t so clearly established in this version, although he does speak Mexican while Beth is completely dependent on his translation, which was one of the means by which Serrador’s film established a distance between husband and wife, an element of the original which doesn’t come across so much in this retelling. Once they do reach the island, any viewer familiar with Serrador’s film will fully know what to expect: the couple find the place is completely deserted apart from gaggles of increasingly strange and threatening children, who appear to be running wild unsupervised around the harbour and dock areas. But after they witness a little girl giggling in the eerily empty street while beating an old man to death with his own cane, things quickly go from bad to even worse, for the same little girl is later joined by a gang of her friends, and Francis stumbles upon their group making a game out of stabbing another of their adult victims en masse, and finishing him off by crushing his skull with a large rock!
The couple’s subsequent attempts to find help at the island’s deserted hotel, the Swedish female survivor trapped somewhere else on the island and whose voice sporadically breaks out over a shop store’s CB radio, and the lone father who survived the original outbreak of whatever it is that’s causing this mysterious plague of homicidal delinquency in the island’s kids and who explains how the whole situation originally started, and how the island’s parents eventually succumbed to their own children’s violence through not being able or willing to kill their own offspring – all this plays out as before, with little to distinguish the story from its ‘70s forebear apart from its reliance on hand-held shaky-cam during some of the supposedly ‘tense’ sequences. The couple end up being pursued by a large crowd of killer tots after they stage a last ditch attempt to reach their boat, but find the route to the harbour cut off by a silent line of threatening infant revolutionaries. They do eventually manage to reach the other side of the island and find that the ‘outbreak’ hasn’t yet reached its children. But this respite proves short-lived, as a group of the kill crazy kids turns up and telepathically ‘transmits the psychic ‘infection’ via touch to their previously unaffected brethren, thus establishing a sense of there being an SF explanation for what’s been happening here, although, as was the case with the Serrador version, the screenplay declines to elaborate on exactly what it might be.
The little children who appear as the killers are admittedly well cast in this remake, and are disturbingly convincing in their roles as serene, straight-faced murderers who only show delight and joyous emotion when they’re slaughtering their elders. But all Makinov’s version really brings to the table is a slightly more visceral sensibility when it comes to its depiction of the violence that the kids are shown perpetrating. But even this isn’t always a guarantee that the results will be more effective: for example, in the original the husband finds a group of boys in a Catholic church sexually defiling a female corpse while some little girls try on, and coo over, the blood splattered dress that’s just been removed from her body. However, in this version, the children turn out to have grossly mutilated the body instead, destroying its face and opening up the chest cavity while surrounded by torn-down Catholic icons of Jesus upon the cross (images of Jesus Christ are plastered all over the general store the couple first visit upon arrival, as well) – a gorier sequence, certainly, but somehow nowhere near as disturbing, even though the sexual acts in the original were largely suggested rather than depicted.
Elsewhere, this remake adds plenty of other new macabre details, such as having some of the children make a necklace out of their victims’ ears, for instance; and one little girl is shown happily towing a severed head attached to a rope behind her as though it were her pet dog! Such additions do little to increase the suspense or add much to the atmosphere though. The photography of the original contributed to its unsettling ambience, rendering everything, atrocities included, in the inescapable sun-drenched Mediterranean light of a tourist’s wet dream; but here everything’s been digitally colour-timed in post-production to make it look exactly like any other contemporary horror flick. The two leads do their best with their underwritten roles, but even the big emotional scene near the end, after the couple become trapped in a cellar with a horde of screaming toddlers outside the door (and Francis is faced with the prospect of being forced to gun down an infant in cold blood to save his wife and unborn child) falls flat. The remake follows exactly the same course as the original right up to and including the denouement, which somehow doesn’t work as well, despite depicting essentially the same events, precisely because the extra visceral detail the imagery accrues in this punchier version ends up merely accentuating the potential for silliness that's inherent in the scenario to become more apparent to the viewer, rather than making the climax more shocking.
“Come Out And Play” comes to seem more and more like a technically competent but soulless plod through a minor horror classic. If the original was still as hard to track down as it once was for many years, there might have been some justification for this unimaginative approach, but Serrador’s classic is these days freely available in a nice restored edition that looks pristine, rendering the need for the identikit remake even more negligible.
Metrodome’s UK DVD edition looks and sounds fine, but there were no extras on the review copy. The film gets a theatrical release in the UK from May 3rd and is followed three days later by the 18 certificate DVD.
Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!