Come and Play is upfront about being based on Juan José Plans’s novel El Juego de los Niños, but less so that it’s also a remake—very often shot for shot—of Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s 1976 adaptation of that same book, Who Can Kill a Child? It’s a strange lack of acknowledgement given how indebted writer-director Makinov’s film is to its cinematic source material, and especially because reviving a little-known B-movie gem to wider audiences is hardly something to be ashamed about.
Following its predecessor’s template virtually beat for beat, Makinov’s story concerns Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and his pregnant wife, Beth (Vinessa Shaw), American tourists who ditch Carnival festivities in mainland South American for a trip to the remote island of Punta Hueca, which they find mysteriously abandoned save for eerily silent kids hanging out at the dock and lurking amid the shadows of dilapidated buildings. Intimations of peril pepper their investigation of the empty town, but Makinov wisely refuses to speed up the pace. If his use of weird noises and low tones on the soundtrack somewhat mar the atmosphere of chilling silence that envelops his characters, he nonetheless builds suspense with methodical precision, allowing Beth’s encounter with a girl (who ominously touches her pregnant belly), or the static-y CB radio broadcasts of a desperate adult woman, to slowly suggest unknown terrors.
After witnessing a young girl kill an old man with his own cane, Francis and Beth realize that the area’s kids have gone homicidal en masse. Makinov shoots that murder from the victim’s perspective, a decision that—like a later montage of the kids playing with severed body parts—mistakenly rejects the film’s otherwise strict adherence to Francis and Beth’s point of views, thereby diffusing some tension. That misstep also reveals a somewhat greater emphasis on gore than Serrador’s original, even as Makinov’s remake, by neutering a signature corpse-torturing scene, comes across as slightly tamer than its shocking ancestor.
Minor alterations aside, however, Come and Play expertly crafts a sense of dawning madness that hinges on its villains’ unspoken fury at their elders. While the director provides even less historical context for his adolescents’ rage than did Serrador (at least until a post-script: “To the martyrs of Stalingrad”), there remains throughout an undercurrent of vengeful generational warfare born from the crimes of mothers and fathers against children. With Moss-Bachrach and Shaw capturing, in horrified and desperate glances, their characters’ moral struggle to reconcile their prejudices about youthful innocence with the atrocities on display, Makinov’s film proves tough and smart—and, in its climactic irony, not without a jet-black sense of humor as well.