Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"If there's a key to unlocking the mystery it's pretty clearly signposted, shining even."

Cobweb, much like its namesake, fills a space relatively well despite gaps, and though its engineering is notionally unique, it's built on well-worn, even ancient, patterns.

Woody Norman is Peter, he's already had a central role in C'mon C'mon and horror fans will likely see him in the forthcoming The Last Voyage Of The Demeter. In one of those identikit American horror movie suburbs that looks suspiciously like a couple of street exteriors with matching Eastern European film studio sets he does the usual kid things of going to school, putting up with his parents, and hearing voices from the walls.

Copy picture

He's got a teacher, Miss Devine, as on the nose a bit of naming as Matilda's Miss Honey. Cleopatra Coleman manages requisite levels of concern, empathy, and eventually action. That said, there is a moment that undermines her character that seems a consequence of shuffling scenes in the edit. She's asked why she visited Peter's house, and as her headteacher runs through the list of things that might justify it there's a glaring example lying there that she never pushes on.

Instead we've got a spooky drawing, one of several scattered around the house that includes relatively convincing unflattering crayon renderings of Antony Starr (pa, Mark) and Lizzy Caplan (ma, Carol). They're both veterans, familiar faces even, though at times one does get the sense that they're a budget-friendlier stand-in for Bradley Cooper and Emily Blunt. "We don't use violence to solve our problems" is a family motto, but we'll see how foundational that is.

We won't, admittedly, get much concrete justification for it, just the after-effects. If there's a key to unlocking the mystery it's pretty clearly signposted, shining even. The big old house has potentially impossible geography, even one of those bathroom arches whose tiling and tone recall those of the Overlook Hotel. There are some stylistic flourishes. Director Samuel Bodin has a clear fondness for strong backlighting for characters. A début feature, sort of, as I believe his miniseries T.A.N.K. and its sequel can theoretically be viewed as a single entity though they are streamed in instalments of a few minutes each. Writer Chris Thomas Devlin previously scripted 2022's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though that was one of five writing credits for that picture including 'based on...' for Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper.

Cobweb is probably about as derivative as that. I could mention clear antecedents like Shirley Jackson's work or a slew of J-Horror, even the fact that the film probably couldn't have been made without access to a contortionist or character design that seems influenced most by Richard Cunningham's Aphex Twin music videos and the 'Momo challenge' hoax that's already been brought to film as Grimcutty. Any or all of those might constitute a spoiler, but the handful of jump-scares are de rigeur and the 'big reveals' are so clearly telegraphed that the surprises aren't.

Admittedly, novelty isn't always what folk are after. At 88 minutes it feels surprisingly long. Time used building tension is often undermined by conversations that appear aimed at doing the same, but we're so quickly aware that things are not as they seem that it's not so much over-egging the pudding as over-icing the cake. There's an obvious and unfair contrast with Spider, but when that collapsed from paranoia it wasn't due to the paranormal. Cobweb does a good job concealing its freaky hand but when it comes to laying its cards on the table it near enough makes a song and dance of it.

In a small cast there's room to mention Luke Busey, another of the acting clan. As bully Brian he and his various cronies are caught up in Cobweb's various sticking points. One sequence uses masks that ably disguise cast and stunt performers both, though they (and an early jack-in-the-box) use an aesthetic that screams horror movie as loudly as wood-panelled bad-guy conference rooms shout technothriller.

At heart that absolute commitment to genre features is probably Cobweb's greatest asset. The cast are doing their best with the material and the mixture of gloss and tedium seems to match Insidious patterns in recent franchises. It's not weaving a new tale. It builds and holds tension relatively well, and if you're not paying close attention you could get caught up in it. I will give it credit for an ending that doesn't feel like an attempt to kick-start a franchise, though it does (albeit not literally) leave doors open. It may well be a question of scale. If you're small and unprepared then a cobweb is something terrifying and dangerous, but for others it's an inconvenience during a chore. Like spider silk, if it has strengths, they're relative rather than absolute.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2023
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Cobweb packshot
Eight-year-old Peter is plagued by a mysterious, constant tap, tap from inside his bedroom wall – a tapping his parents insist is all in his imagination. His concerned schoolteacher starts making enquiries after Peter shows clear evidence of trouble at home. But as Peter’s fear intensifies, he believes that his parents could be hiding a terrible, dangerous secret.
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Director: Samuel Bodin

Writer: Chris Thomas Devlin

Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Anthony Starr, Cleopatra Coleman, Woody Norman

Year: 2023

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


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