Cobweb – Review

Cobweb Lizzie Caplan Antony StarrThere can’t be too much left unexplored in contemporary horror. The creature feature. The alienated, eccentric child. The mother of a nervous disposition. The house that creaks at night. The mysterious basement. The home invasion. The school bully.

Director Samuel Bodin makes his feature length debut with Cobweb, a low-budget horror that seems able to find time to cover absolutely everything on the list. Combining psychological scares with all out guts and gore, this is a film that excels within its first hour before (quite frankly) losing the plot.

Cobweb centres around Peter (Woody Norman). He is a lonely, only child who is mercilessly bullied at school. His brutally aloof parents (played by Antony Starr and Lizzie Caplan) dismiss his cries for help – everything from repeated nightmares to strange artwork. One night, he begins to hear a knock from inside his bedroom wall. The knock graduates into a voice; a young girl claiming to be his rejected sister who has been banished. But is the voice actually there? And is it really on Peter’s side?

This film revels in the dark. Washed out browns, murky greys and faded blues are everywhere – from costumes to wallpaper to nature. Even the pumpkin patch growing in Peter’s back garden is blighted with a frothing black rot. There is no brightness here. Except for that little voice. Its sweet, breathless whispers give Peter hope that he is not alone; not a freak; that there is someone on his side. The relationship has hints of a kindly spirit – something you’d find in a Guillermo del Toro – and (for the first hour, at least) doesn’t appear to be anything more sinister.

In fact, Bodin clearly paints Starr and Caplan (as Mark and Carol) as the real forces of evil, here. For parents who repeatedly profess how special and loved their son is, they sure have a funny way of showing it. They are extremely rigid, routined. Carol seems constantly on the brink of needing smelling salts and sea air. Caplan delivers her lines with all the schlock and sweetness of a 1950s B-movie bit player and it works so perfectly with the mood of the film. Mark has barely concealed violent rage lurking underneath that twitch of a smile. Peter is expected to be obedient and silent. There is no space for the colours and creativity of a normal childhood.

As Peter’s relationship with the voice in the wall progresses, he starts to realise that his parents aren’t normal. In fact, they could be harming him with the lack of socialisation and stringent rules that they force upon him. Bodin cleverly directs the viewer into agreeing with the voice and a particularly terrifying nightmare soon convinces you that, yes, it is the parents who are the villains of the piece.

For the first hour or so, the tension is built impeccably. There are several points where you really will wonder how Cobweb is going to wrap up (if you’ll pardon the poor attempt at a pun). Bodin, along with writer Chris Thomas Devlin, suggests two or three different fates for poor Peter in his house of horrors. But none of these materialise. Instead, for the last half hour, we are given a monster movie, a home invasion and a slasher all rolled up into one (but no sign of a neat conclusion in sight).

Cobweb 2023Once the voice in the wall becomes flesh (?), Cobweb loses its thrill. Both this and 2022’s Barbarian were shot in Sofia, Bulgaria and – once you clock that – you’ll start to pick up on all the similarities. Not least the disappointing reveal of the “monster” who, allegedly, you should have sympathy for due to past ill-treatment. The special effects do look a bit ropey at times and the whiplash move from creepy slow burn to outright murder-fest is so strange. More than that, it’s a shame. Up until then, Cobweb was doing an excellent job of being thoroughly unsettling and interesting.

Whilst the good does outweigh the bad in this film, it does suffer from racing towards its finish line with unsatisfactory narrative points and not quite believable special effects. The three lead performances – from Woody Norman, Antony Starr and Lizzie Caplan – are the driving force of the film. Each brings their own slightly unsettling take on son, father and mother and it absolutely elevates the scares.

Cobweb delights in the uncanny for the first hour of its runtime, only to undo all of its good work in the last thirty minutes. It’s a strong feature length debut, however, and benefits greatly from its three leads.

Cobweb played in UK cinemas in July 2023.

Mary Munoz
Follow Me
Latest posts by Mary Munoz (see all)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.