Synopsis: 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. As Peter’s fear intensifies, he believes his parents could hide a terrible, dangerous secret.
Stars: Lizzy Caplan, Woody Norman, Cleopatra Coleman, Antony Starr
Director: Samuel Bodin
Running Length: 88 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: In recent years, I’ve been good at avoiding major spoilers for upcoming releases by doing one simple thing: avoiding trailers. The studios have gotten terrible about giving away colossal plot points that may seem innocuous when viewing the preview, but once you’re watching the actual film, your brain begins to piece together the images you’ve already seen, and suddenly, you’re five steps ahead of the characters onscreen. It’s no fun and robs you of moments that would have been far more enjoyable to discover naturally. (Go back and watch the trailer for Scream VI for a recent example of exactly what I’m talking about.)
For full disclosure, I watched the preview for Cobweb before I saw the finished film, mostly because I didn’t think it appeared to be anything other than your standard creepy crawly horror flick. I thought that I’d get to it eventually and likely have forgotten any/all details, so it couldn’t hurt to check out the basic outline of this Lionsgate title, produced by comedian Seth Rogen and partner Evan Goldberg. While it felt more like a natural Halloween discovery than a mid-summer release, watching it late one unreasonably warm Minnesota evening, I couldn’t help but start to get a severe case of the shivers.
Talking about Cobweb is tricky because, like the trailer, to give away too much would mess with screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin’s (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) wicked tale, told with a few nifty surprises horror fans will get a pleasant tingle from. The preview is a bit deceptive in that it only gives away part of what the movie is about; the other half is decidedly more sinister, turns tables, and requires a judicious unpacking of after the fact. I’ll take that over a bland horror outing (like June’s The Boogeyman, a stale bore in comparison), which forgets to leave you with anything memorable.
Substitute teacher Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman, The Right One) worries about one of her students, Peter (Woody Norman, C’mon C’mon). New to the district and the small town, it would be easy to ignore the boy’s disturbing drawings that are clearly crying out for help. She’s intuitive enough to see that it’s not just the daily torment from a cruel classroom bully inspiring the art but something closer to home that has conjured up images of danger. Of course, we’ve already been inside Peter’s house and met his strange parents, Carol (Lizzy Caplan, Now You See Me 2, miscast but still a delight) and Mark (Antony Starr, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant), and have seen firsthand why Peter should be frightened.
Odd noises from within the walls of his creaky home are dismissed at first as figments of Peter’s imagination. Carol and Mark keep the boy at arm’s length, parenting at a distance and cautiously attending to his claims of things that go bump in the night. Unwilling to believe their son (or is it unwilling to help?), they do a bit of parental gaslighting as the nighttime noises get worse. When the disembodied voice of a young girl begins to talk to Peter, telling him a worrisome history involving his parents, paranoia sets in and leads them all, Miss Devine included, into a disturbing web of terror.
It didn’t surprise me that Cobweb’s director Samuel Bodin was the writer/director of the alarmingly scary Netflix show Marianne. That French series, if you haven’t seen it, had some deliriously terrifying sequences and maintained its grip over eight episodes before it was unceremoniously canceled. Bodin brings that same mood to his English language debut, which was shot in Bulgaria in 2020 and shelved until now, through not just the script and shrieks but a unique production design (Peter’s backyard is filled with pumpkins in various stages of decay). It all sets the stage for a final act that couldn’t have been predicted from the start.
Cobweb’s complete package might not warrant a full feature, too many horror films are stretched out further than their good idea plots allow as it is, but it has stayed in my mind ever since I saw it. That it has grown fonder in my memory is a testament to Bodin and Devlin’s work creating an atmosphere where old-fashioned haunted house scares can take root and flourish. The finale gets messy in commercial terms, but it’s easy to overlook a minor flaw when everything else has been polished up nicely.