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Cobweb Review

July 19, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Cobweb Lizzy Caplan Image Credit: Vlad Cioplea/Lionsgate
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Cobweb Review  

Directed by: Samuel Bodin
Written by: Chris Thomas Devlin

Lizzy Caplan – Carol
Antony Starr – Mark
Cleopatra Coleman – Miss Devine
Woody Norman – Peter
Luke Busey – Brian
Aleksandra Dragova – The Girl
Jay Rincón – Principal
Anton Kottas – Timothy
Steffanie Busey – Brian’s Mom

Image Credit: Lionsgate

Running Time: 88 minutes
Rated R for horror violence and some language.

There’s something ever so creepy about a good fairy tale. Whether speaking to a greater moral message or just there to spin a spooky tale, they’re always at safest a touch off-kilter and at worst (and best) they’re the kinds of things to put nightmares in kids’ heads. It’s no surprise that the jangly sing-song rhymes and tales of the Brothers Grimm have been fertile ground for horror films.

Cobweb isn’t based on a particular creepy children’s tale, but it certainly evokes that feel. Director Samuel Bodin’s story of a family full of secrets is told through the eyes of the exact kind of person we might expect to be seeing as in one dark woods-set story or another. Releasing on Friday, the film finds its strength not through gore or even jump scares, but through a solid foundation of suspense highlighted by he quartet of great performances at its core.

Leaning heavily on mood and tone as, the film centers its story on Peter (Norman), an isolated boy in an town that looks not unlike Halloween’s Haddonfield (an immediate sign that all is not well). Peter lives a lonely life with his mother Carol (Caplan) and father Mark (Starr), who maintain a very stark control over his life. He’s not allowed to celebrate the upcoming Halloween, with his parents citing the disappearance some years ago of a local girl on Halloween night as a reason. And his schoolmates have pegged him as “the weird one,” particularly the bully Brian (Busey) who goes out of his way to make Peter’s life hell.

To make matters worse, Peter discovers a knocking on his wall late at night. Despite his terrified pleas that there’s something in the walls, his parents insist that it’s all his imagination. The more he presses about it, the angrier his father gets. They dismiss his claims that he hears a voice as bad dreams. It isn’t long before Mark has reason to believe that his parents are hiding a secret, and not even the substitute teacher that takes an interest in him (Coleman) may be able to help.

Cobweb had a fair amount of buzz before it even entered production, ending up on the 2018 edition of the yearly Black List which spotlights the best unproduced screenplays. It’s easy to see why; writer Chris Thomas Devlin has crafted a story that keeps things simple by focusing on the family and the substitute teacher Miss Divine, which gives the actors plenty of time to stretch out in the role.

Primary among those actors is the young star Norman, who performs quite admirably as Peter. It’s not necessarily an easy role to play; lonely and withdrawn can easily come off as monotone and aloof, but Norman avoids that trap and allows us to get into his head where we need to be. He’s both believable and sympathetic here, which helps put us as viewers in the sense of danger that we need for the film to hit.

Caplan and Starr are just slightly unhinged as the parents, enough to make them seem suspicious without going over the top. And Coleman, delivers quite nicely as the outsider who wants to help, her second piece of stellar genre work in a supporting role this year after being Alexander Skarsgård’s wife in Infinity Pool.

While Cobweb does take a little time to really escalate and the slow burn may turn some off, once the horror arrives it’s generally worth it. The third act reveals are ludicrous but lots of fun, evoking the same sort of “oh, they’re going THERE” wildness that Barbarian benefitted from last year. (It’s no surprise that this is being billed as from that film’s producer.)

The gore may be a letdown for those looking for it; it spills the blood for sure, though most of the violence is kept off-screen. Still, it does ultimately deliver on the horror, even if the film is slightly let down by its abrupt ending.

Cobweb releases in theaters on July 21st.

The final score: review Good
The 411
A fun little piece of domestic horror, Samuel Bodin's Cobweb benefits from strong performances as well as a creepy, moody tone. The pace takes a bit of time to unfold but there's plenty to enjoy, and once things get bonkers it becomes quite twisted and fun. It may not be the hardest-hitting horror flick on the block, but it's clearly enjoying its work and that makes it easy for us to enjoy it too.

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Cobweb, Jeremy Thomas