Director: Samuel Bodin

Writers: Chris Thomas Devlin

Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, Woody Norman, Cleopatra Coleman

Producers: Andrew Childs, Evan Goldberg, Roy Lee, Seth Rogen, James Weaver

Music: Drum & Lace

Cinematographer: Philip Lozano

Editors: Kevin Greutert, Richard Riffaud

Cert: 15

Running time: 88mins

Year: 2023

What’s the story: The week before Halloween. Peter (Norman) is tormented by bullies at school and unnerved at home by his off-kilter mum (Caplan) and dad (Starr). When the spirit of a dead girl haunting his bedroom walls warns him about his parents, Peter feels danger closing in.

What’s the verdict: In this age of films routinely overrunning by thirty minutes or more, it is rare to come across something you wish had been longer. But at a brief rather than swift 88-minutes, you can’t help but wish Cobweb had allowed more time to flesh out its story.  

The runtime may have been self-inflicted. Telltale signs of an editor’s scissors (or two) truncating scenes or removing subplots, suggests the film did not come together as planned. The result is something that seems unsure what it wants to be, rushing to tell its tale, and leaving the audience clutching a fistful of loose ends.

Despite all this, Cobweb is still good, fun horror. Individual moments hit the right note of unease, black comedy, or outright terror. Chris Thomas Devlin’s script and Samuel Bodin’s gloomy widescreen direction evoke a Grimm’s fairytale atmosphere.

But, the film’s bullseye is in casting Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr as Carol and Mark. A twitchy couple, their parenting MO is not exactly out of the Modern Family playbook. Suffering both their saccharine over-parenting and penchant for banishing him to the basement is Woody Norman’s Peter, a sad-eyed pre-teen with hair out of a 1970s horror movie.

Peter suspects mum and dad are up to no good. Particularly when the spirit of a dead girl begins talking to him from inside his wall, informing him of his parents’ dark past. With something in the ground poisoning the pumpkin patch in their garden, Peter is in a race against time to find out what his folks are scheming. Can Cleopatra Coleman’s kindly teacher also jump in before it’s too late?

Cobweb suffers from that malady also affecting last year’s The Black Phone – “tell-don’t-showism.”. Rather than dramatising Peter’s investigation into his oddball folks, exposition is delivered by the slab courtesy of that handy phantom in the wall. Or a dream sequence will offer up chunky clues to the inert pint-sized protagonist. All this provides more time for the audience to ponder what is unfolding onscreen. Only the horror newbie won’t be three or four steps ahead of two big story twists.

But Starr and Caplan (the latter seriously playing against type) keep the whole thing not only afloat but compelling. Imagine The Shining if both parents had been unhinged. Flashes of dark humour abound, including a great sight gag when Peter’s revenge on his school bullies is more successful than he planned. A nasty climax should please gore hounds and fans of OTT horror FX. Even if characters frequently die of stupidity as much as something malevolent.

Not as well-spun as the titular web, but enjoyable enough. And Caplan should really think about a side career in fear cinema.  

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Letterboxd: RobDan
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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