Tense Cobweb Weaves a Sinister Tale of Halloween Terror
Is there something — or someone — trapped in the walls of his house? Or, as the parents Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr) of eight-year-old Peter (Woody Norman) insist, is the rap-rap-rapping behind the wallpaper only a terrifying figment of the boy’s imagination? He’s not sure, and between all the bullying he’s receiving at school and his mom and dad’s overprotectiveness regarding virtually every move he makes, Peter is starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with him.
If there isn’t something — or someone — in the walls, does that just mean he’s crazy?
There is something about a well-made genre picture that brings a gigantic smile to my face. Director Samuel Bodin and writer Chris Thomas Devlin (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) may not do anything terribly new or original with their visceral shocker Cobweb, but their exceedingly confident production still manages to entertain. This descent into psychologically scarring thrills and chills gets the job done, and it’s really rather a shame that this handsomely mounted production isn’t getting a wider theatrical release and more of a marketing push.
The central mystery is whether or not Carol and Mark are hiding murderous secrets from Peter and if the voice calling to the boy from behind his bedroom wall is real or instead nothing but a terrifying fantasy. Into this mix are thrown a quartet of schoolyard bullies looking to exact a little payback for a confrontation gone wrong. They inadvertently are joined by a caring substitute teacher named Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman), who has taken a special interest in Peter, having started to suspect the boy’s parents are abusing their son so subtly that her school’s administrators haven’t taken notice.
Little of this is subtle. When Mark decides Peter needs to be punished, he doesn’t only ground the boy, he goes so far as to lock him in a secret room hidden in their basement. Carol is prone to sudden, angry outbursts that border on being outright violent. A neighborhood kid went missing on Halloween night before Peter was born, and ever since, his parents have refused to celebrate the holiday, even though the kid’s disappearance had nothing to do with either of them. The family’s backyard pumpkin patch is beginning to rot.
It’s basic math, and in this case one plus one does equal two. But Bodin and Devlin have a few tricks tucked up their sleeve, and it’s clear early on that not everything is how it appears and that Peter may not be the junior detective he thinks he is. While a third-act twist isn’t surprising, it’s so wonderfully delivered that I can’t say it mattered. Things explode into a maelstrom of failure, fear, and dismembering violence, and Peter’s reaction to the subsequent carnage and chaos is nothing less than priceless.
Caplan and Starr are great as the sinister parents, and a large part of me wishes they would have had slightly more to do, especially during the film’s last 30 minutes. Even though they are completely different in tone and style, Norman is nearly as terrific here as he was in Mike Mills’ 2021 sensation C’mon C’mon. The kid has a future as an actor if he wants one, and his performance here is another bona fide winner.
This is Bodin’s feature-length directorial debut, but he handles the material like a seasoned veteran. The filmmaker appears to have an inherent knack for utilizing limited spaces, and I love how he showcases the geography of the family’s home with gracefully pinpoint precision. Bodin gives cinematographer Philip Lozano the freedom to move his camera with dexterously subtle specificity, and it’s superb the way he lights each scene and magnifies certain key aspects of production designer Alan Gilmore’s creatively tactile and lived-in interiors.
I can’t talk about anything that happens during the last third of Cobweb, but one should probably know that this is the section where the film earns its R rating. Blood flows freely, and Bodin balances practical makeup effects, CGI, and old-school in-camera trickery with aplomb. If the final moments aren’t novel, they’re still presented with intelligent authority, and the shiver that slithered up my spine as Peter faced off against his true adversary was entirely genuine. I liked this film a lot.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)