Creepy monster movies are in fashion again thanks to last year’s horror hit, Barbarian, but there’s a decent chance that Cobweb be what the film’s fans dig into now. Director Samuel Bodin, of the chilling Netflix series Marianne, introduces grim storybook horrors, classic “don’t trust the parentals” paranoia, bump-in-the-night terrors, and even a bit of home invasion into a film that has its share of genre charms and a wild finish, but poor narrative choices cause this tangled web to snap.
The film begins with Peter (C’mon C’mon breakout Woody Norman), a seemingly ordinary kid suffering from nightmares. He hears weird sounds emanating from the walls, and when he knocks on them…a knock answers back. His mother (Lizzy Caplan), a woman who always seems to be on the verge of a nervous wreck, arrives just in time to tuck him back into bed. His father (Antony Starr) doesn’t seem all that concerned when it happens again the next night. Only this time, Peter hears the voice of a girl pleading for his help.
Peter’s world is topsy-turvy, even at his young age. School sorta sucks, with bullies hounding him every single day. His teacher, Ms. Divine (Cleopatra Coleman) notices something is up, and grows concerned when Peter draws one of those “cry for help” images in class. When she shows up at Peter’s house to talk to his parents about it, they’re pissed. Peter’s father is especially angry, but convinces his son that what he’s been experiencing is a whole lot of nothing. It becomes clear very quickly that Peter’s parents are carrying a terrible secret, and it’s locked away somewhere in that house.
Interestingly, the voice becomes almost like an angel on Peter’s shoulder. Sick of being bullied, Peter takes its advice to defend himself…with violent consequences. That kicks off a series of events that force Peter to question everything about himself, the voice, and most definitely his parents.
Cobweb‘s screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, of the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot, drives our mistrust towards Peter’s parents. The cinematography helps in this, often portraying them in shadowy or even demonic figure. Caplan and Starr are terrific, though, shifting quickly from overbearing to punishing at a moment’s notice. Starr, in particular, has the whole “gaslighting” thing down pat. He’s basically playing a stripped-down version of The Boys‘ Homelander; the facade of calm barely hides something terrible just beneath the surface.
However, the script isn’t particularly fleshed out or novel and comes across like a poor man’s Goodnight Mommy when it should be leaning into the Gothic horror elements that have also been introduced. The reality of the situation is telegraphed a mile away and I think that’s a deliberate choice. While it gives audiences something to anticipate, it also makes it tough to invest in the build-up of tension in Peter’s prison-like household.
Bodin and Devlin should’ve leaned into the bloodthirsty, over-the-top gory silliness of the final act because it’s when Cobweb is most effective. Bodin does a good job of keeping a lot of the monstrous details up to our imagination, while other times are surprisingly graphic and the stuff of nightmares. You’ll not look at a jack-o-lantern quite the same way again, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, after an impressively nasty uptick in body count, Cobweb falls apart with a non-committal conclusion that tells you the filmmakers are eyeing sequels first rather than telling a complete horror story for eager genre fans.
Cobweb is in theaters now.