The Spool / Movies
Cobweb is a solid but mostly familiar spooky house full of secrets tale
Samuel Bodin’s thriller has a nice twist but lifts too much from the child-in-peril playbook.

Samuel Bodin’s thriller has a nice twist but lifts too much from the child-in-peril playbook.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

As horror movies fans, we (and I’m very much including myself here) talk a good game about wanting to see something new and different in the genre, but there are plenty of old reliable tropes that still work with us. Zombies, kaiju, masked killers, all of those have a better than good chance of drawing in audiences, without trying too hard to bring a fresh new angle to anything. We also love child in peril and creepy kid movies, and Samuel Bodin’s Cobweb manages to incorporate both, to mixed results.

Said child in peril/creepy kid is Peter (Woody Norman), a troubled, lonely little boy who lives an isolated life with his parents Carol {Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (The BoysAntony Starr) in a rundown, dreary house. Following the disappearance of another child in town years earlier, Carol and Mark are pathologically overprotective of Peter, and angry when his odd behavior at school draws the concern of a well-meaning teacher (Cleopatra Coleman), even though clearly the entire family needs some sort of assistance.

Though his parents insist that he’s imagining it, Peter starts to hear the voice of another child whispering within the walls of his bedroom. While initially that presence is frightening, Peter, desperately in need of a friend, begins to take comfort in his strange visitor, and is desperate to find out who the mysterious, unseen child is, and how they got there. It soon become apparent however that Peter’s “friend” may not have the best intentions in mind for him, as it starts encouraging him to do things like confront a bully by pushing him down a flight of stairs, breaking the boy’s leg in the process. A furious Mark and a frantic Carol, to avoid any further attention, withdraw Peter from school, and lock him in the basement of their house, though whether it’s for punishment or protection is not to be spoiled. But Peter’s secret friend is still there, in the walls, looking out for him.

You may watch Cobweb and think, as I did initially, that Chris Thomas Devlin’s script shows its hand far too early. On the other hand, certain characters immediately come off as so dangerously unhinged that of course something else has to be going on, it couldn’t possibly be that clumsily obvious. Indeed, once the twist is revealed, it’s pretty fun, and takes Cobweb from a psychological suspense thriller into full-blown horror. The last 25 minutes or so, when Bodin stops playing it safe and just starts having fun, makes up for the first hour, which isn’t bad, per se, but a little slow and stale.

Cobweb (Lionsgate)

Lizzy Caplan has a couple of good freakouts, particularly a scene where, while attempting to carve a jack-o’lantern, she furiously hacks away at a pumpkin like it killed her family in a previous life. But we already know she can play nutty-as-a-fruitcake well, both in season two of Castle Rock and this year’s otherwise dull-as-dishwater reboot of Fatal Attraction. Antony Starr’s blandly handsome face gives a creepy edge to his performance that’s one part Norman Bates (if he’d gotten married and had a kid), and one part Terry O’Quinn in The Stepfather. Peter’s teacher becomes concerned about him after, of course, finding a disturbing drawing he does in class. There’s a scene involving the vindictive older brother of the bully Peter pushes down the stairs that, while fun, looks to have been heavily lifted from Let the Right One In. Much of Cobweb, before that wacky gothic horror climax, feels very familiar.

But, of course, there is comfort in familiarity (not to mention, for me at least, movies that take place in spooky old houses that always look damp). It’s entirely possible that letting the audience distract themselves by playing a game of Horror Movie Bingo (and thus letting them think they know how everything will play out) is intentional, so they don’t see the ending coming. If that’s the case, then cheers to both Bodin and Devil for a scheme well done.

If not, well…you know what, it’s fine. Cobweb has plenty of atmosphere, with the Halloween decorations decorating Peter’s house a jarringly cheerful contrast to the gloomy mystery happening inside, and an unsettling ending. Playing the helicopter parents from Hell, Caplan and Starr camp it up with wild-eyed stares and stiff, mirthless smiles, while the somber Woody Norman leaves the viewer wondering if his character should be pitied or feared. What works in it works well, and what doesn’t you won’t remember when it’s over anyway.

Cobweb is now playing in select theaters.

Cobweb Trailer: