By Naomi Roper
You have to feel for director Samuel Bodin. His last project Marianne, a spooky French language series which owed a hefty debt to Stephen King was unceremoniously cancelled by Netflix after one series despite being really rather good. Cobweb, his new Halloween set chiller was inexplicably released in cinemas not at the beginning of October as it should have been but at the height of summer and at the same time as Barbie/Oppenheimer. What on earth were the studio execs thinking? Its brief theatre release and hasty arrival on VOD might give the impression that it’s not very good but nothing could be further from the truth.
8 year old Peter (Woody Norman) doesn’t have much of a fun life. At school, he is either ignored or relentlessly bullied. His home life isn’t much better. His mother Carol (Lizzy Caplan (Fatal Attraction)) is a tremulous, nervy live wire who won’t let Peter go trick or treating on Halloween and keeps the front door firmly locked with a huge key. His father Mark (Antony Starr (The Boys)) is authoritarian, dealing out punishments with an eerily calm demeanour. Peter’s only champion is his teacher Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman) and even she doesn’t understand when Peter tries to tell her that there is something calling to him from beyond the walls of his house…
Cobweb is an effective, spine-tingling chiller. Bodin successfully manages to conjure up an atmosphere of profound menace from the first frame. We know something is terribly wrong in Peter’s house. There is an overwhelming feeling of dread from the second poor Peter realises that something may be reaching out to him from the walls of his home. The movie is beautifully shot, Philip Lozano’s cinematography is as ominous as it is beautiful.
Bodin teases great performances out of his talented cast. The 14-year-old Norman is hugely sympathetic as Peter, a boy under siege by menaces wherever he goes. Caplan keeps the audience guessing as to her true motivations with a performance that veers wildly from overbearing bully to terrified out of her mind from second to second. Starr, following up his stellar performance as the most unsettling supervillain in decades as Homelander in The Boys is by far the most frightening thing on screen. Mark is a cold bully who abuses his son with a cheerful smile on his face and who keeps gaslighting Peter by claiming that he can’t hear anything in the walls. Starr is genuinely terrifying in the role.
If there is one solid criticism to be made of Cobweb it’s that it’s all vibes but very little substance. It’s beautiful to look at, creepy as hell, Antony Starr is superb and it has some very finely crafted jump scares but the script by Chris Thomas Devlin (who wrote the much-derided recent iteration of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) falls apart the second you think about it for more than a second. There are plot holes here big enough to fit several trucks through. You don’t need to be genre savvy to work out that the script is one big misdirect and that’s frustrating as it feels like a cheat. You’ll come away wondering exactly what certain characters’ long-term plans were or if they were in fact just morons. As ever a spot of open communication would have seen the events of this film play out rather differently.
Still, it all builds to a grand guignol gonzo ending with death and mayhem galore which is huge fun to watch.
Cobweb is the perfect Halloween movie, destined to find its way onto the playlist of movies to watch in the spooky season for years to come.
Cobweb had its UK premiere at Frightfest. It is on VOD in the US now and will be released by Lionsgate UK in cinemas in the UK on 1 September 2023.