From first-time director Samuel Bodin, the Lionsgate-produced Cobweb came with a lot of advance buzz in the horror community. Apparently, the screenplay, written by Chris Tomlin Devlin (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), made the 2018 Black List. For the uninitiated, the Black List is a survey of Hollywood filmmakers of the ‘most liked’ unproduced screenplays. So it’s a bit disappointing that Cobweb didn’t see a larger theatrical release this summer. On the plus side, the dark fairy tale is now available to rent on VOD platforms.
Peter is a shy and sensitive boy, bullied at school by his peers and watched closely by his overprotective parents. One night, Peter hears a tapping coming from inside his bedroom wall, but his parents dismiss it as a nightmare. As the knocking on the wall continues, however, Peter’s parents become angry and defensive. Soon a voice from inside the wall begins talking to Peter. She claims to be his sister – locked away and punished by parents she claims are evil. And the voice in the wall claims that if Peter doesn’t act soon, his mother and father will soon lock him away, too.
Cobweb Starts Slow, But Proves to Be An Effectively Scary Little Movie
Though Cobweb represents his feature-length directorial debut, Samuel Bodin immediately looks confident behind the camera. Perhaps the best way to describe this horror movie is that it plays out like a simple, dark fairy tale. In this regard, Bodin immediately establishes a foreboding atmosphere that puts audiences on edge. Not much really happens in the first act. Undoubtedly, there’s some pacing issues here as Cobweb sometimes feels slow as opposed to slow burn. Yet Bodin and writer Chris Thomas Devlin initially cast Peter’s parents as awkwardly overprotective before slowly establishing that there’s much more wrong in the household. While it’s a bit slow early on, there is a ‘nervous’ urgency that develops as we fear whatever danger seems to be waiting for the young Peter.
Perhaps the best way to describe this horror movie is that it plays out like a simple, dark fairy tale.
As the second act ramps up, Bodin introduces more scares and thickens the mystery. There’s one mid-act nightmare sequence that’s absolutely terrifying, Here, Bodin shows he understands how to use shadows to keep audiences guessing about what’s next. One only wishes that the first-time director had perhaps double-downed on these moments. Once Cobweb reaches its climax, the scares and action finally intensify as Bodin illustrates how to work with a smaller budget and still generate effective horror. Somewhere in Cobweb is a reminder that horror movies don’t need a big budget to work. While it’s a bit on the slow side initially, Cobweb is always haunting and often quite scare.
Cobweb Suffers From Some Storytelling Problems, But Overcomes With Good Performances
Perhaps the biggest problem with Cobweb emerges from its initially sought after screenplay. On one hand, Cobweb feels like an old-school fairytale unfolding in a contemporary setting. There’s also a rich mystery really drives so much of the suspense in those slower moments in the first act. Too bad Devlin’s screenplay lets the scares dictate the storytelling as opposed to the reverse. That is, early plot points – which later make little sense – have to exist for no other reason other than to create suspense and drive the final act’s shock reveal. Yes, there’s a twist but it doesn’t feel organic. Yet this also ultimately feels like a small complaint for a horror movie that works so well.
Too bad Devlin’s screenplay lets the scares dictate the storytelling as opposed to the reverse.
There are plenty of horror movies about parents hiding dark secrets from their children. Maybe this is another small shortcoming of Cobweb. But Lizzy Caplan (Castle Rock) and Antony Starr (The Boys) make for subtly creepy parents overcoming any storytelling limitations. In particular, Caplan’s performance mixes quiet desperation with an underlying intensity that is frightening and compelling. And the young Woody Norman – starring in his second horror movie of the summer – shows immense promise in his performance. Poor Cleopatra Coleman (Infinity Pool) not only has less to do, but she’s also impacted by screenplay shortcoming. Nevertheless, Coleman’s talented enough to remind audiences that she’s worth watching beyond a limited role.
Cobweb a Flawed But Genuinely Chilling Little Horror Movie
Slow to really kick into gear, Cobweb still plays very well as a simple, dark fairy tale albeit with flawed storytelling. First-time director Samuel Bodin instantly establishes atmosphere and what might be best described as a ‘nervous’ tone. Once the scares ramp up, Bodin proves he knows how to use shadows and the corners of the screen to build suspense. Both Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr are eerily effective, while the young Woody Norman delivers in his second summer horror movie. Maybe the storytelling here doesn’t quite work. There’s a bit too much ambiguity. But it’s a minor quibble with what’s a fun, effective little horror movie that’s absolutely worth checking out.