‘Cobweb’ movie review: don’t sleep on this twisted Halloween-set horror film

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An eight-year-old boy’s existence begins to unravel after he hears a mysterious voice coming from behind his bedroom wall in Cobweb, now playing in Prague cinemas after debuting stateside earlier this summer. This diverting horror film produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg didn’t make a splash on it’s debut, but don’t sleep on it this fall: it’s a real Halloween treat.

Cobweb is a rare horror movie surprise in more ways than one, with a twisted narrative that keeps you guessing and throws in two major shifts in direction before an outrageous climax. It’s not quite this year’s Malignant or Barbarian, but it’s in the same ballpark, and a notch better than the similarly-themed The Boy.

Directed by Samuel Bodin in his feature debut, from a script by Chris Thomas Devlin (last year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre redux), Cobweb stars Woody Norman (who memorably starred alongside Joaquin Phoenix in the criminally underseen C’mon C’mon) as eight-year-old Peter, who has trouble sleeping at night when he hears a tapping on his bedroom wall… and soon, a raspy voice trying to communicate with him.

Parents Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr) want nothing to do Peter’s stories of a strange voice coming from the wall, and insist that he is imaging things. Meanwhile, the voice in the wall starts to tell Peter things about his parents…

Slowly during the course of Cobweb‘s first half we begin to realize that there’s something else going on with Peter. His domineering parents won’t let him go trick or treating, and he doesn’t appear to have any friends at school. There’s talk of a missing girl from the neighborhood, there’s a lock on the cellar door, and mom seems particularly rattled after Peter’s claims.

And there’s also something vaguely sinister about dad (masterfully portrayed by Starr, who stars as Homelander on Amazon’s The Boys), who seems to be threatening his son when describing how to get rid of the mice that must be in the walls, or how to save the family’s pumpkin patch from spreading rot.

Peter’s substitute teacher Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman) takes notice, and even makes some house calls after the school won’t follow up on her concerns. And despite the supernatural premise, we begin to realize that Cobweb really isn’t a horror film, but rather a parable about child abuse, with Peter escaping into dark fantasy to escape the real-world horrors at home.

After class clown Brian (Luke Busey, young son of Gary Busey) smashes Peter’s prized pumpkin, the bully’s mom makes him apologize to Peter in front of their class and shake hands. But the voice is now speaking to Peter at school, and tells him that Brian’s forced apology isn’t good enough. So he rushes the bully, knocking him down the stairs and breaking his leg in the process.

And at this point, Cobweb makes its first narrative shift as we realize that the horrors at home are now manifesting themselves within Peter himself… is he becoming the unsuspecting monster in this unusual horror story?

Cobweb becomes something else entirely during its final third, however, which is best left for unsuspecting audiences to discover on their own. And while it doesn’t do justice to the quite serious themes explored during the first two acts of the movie, it’s inventive and wild just the same (and perhaps inspired by a Treehouse of Terror episode of The Simpsons).

Cobweb is unusually sparse for a mainstream horror film, with the majority of the running time dedicated to Peter exploring the dark surroundings of his home and the darker thoughts that exist within his mind. But this atmospheric chiller, with expressive cinematography from Philip Lozano and a moody score from Drum & Lace, delivers on multiple fronts. Don’t let it gather dust.

Cobweb

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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