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Cobweb

Something is going bump in the night in Peter’s bedroom. Soon, those nightly bumps start to sound like a voice trapped in the wall. At first, that voice scares Peter, but as his parents grow more exasperated with his behavior, the voice in the wall becomes a source of comfort, a disembodied guardian angel of sorts, who, as Peter will soon realize, is not all that she seems and whose advice is not always so pure. 

While the strange and unusual world of Samuel Bodin’s “Cobweb” has ample enough unsettling energy thanks to Philip Lozano’s ominous cinematography, it fails to reach its scary ambitions. Jump scares feel less jumpy, and the twists are predictable. It’s a subtle creeper, but that’s about it, all ambiance and little substance—like a pot of water that never seems to boil. Watch as we might, something’s just not right, and the ingredients never come together into a fulfilling meal. 

The basic horror movie elements are present: We have Peter (Woody Norman), a bullied loner who hears things he shouldn’t and whose Halloween is ruined by two disconcerting parents, Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr). There’s also a caring teacher named Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman) who worries more about Peter’s wellbeing than his parents, and then there’s the otherworldly voice in the wall, whose character is a surprise I won’t spoil. Despite its supernatural creepiness, and yes, spiders, Bodin and writer Chris Thomas Devlin (who previously wrote the 2022 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) have the skeletons of a horror movie, but not one that feels fleshed out. 

“Cobweb” is riddled with misdirection—things are thrown into the story but never really amount to anything. For instance, there’s the mystery of a missing trick-or-treater that Carol and Mark tell Peter is the reason he is not allowed to enjoy Halloween, and while it comes up once or twice, once that mystery is solved, it just kind of fizzles out. Bullies torture Peter, but no one really addresses them until Peter reacts violently, then they disappear again until the end for one (again, predictable) climactic showdown. In one of the funnier misfires, Miss Devine visits Carol and Mark to ask about Peter and notices Mark has a gaping slash down his forearm. “You’re bleeding,” she tells him. “I’m just doing some remodeling,” Mark responds smugly. “Loose nail. Don’t worry about it.” And just like that, the subject is dropped. He wipes a not-insignificant amount of blood off his arm and questions her. What was the purpose of the scene? To establish something’s off with Mark? That’s telegraphed in many other moments. Was it just another weird, stilted exchange to threaten Miss Devine (what a name) off of finding out what’s happening to Peter? The scene is just another off-beat moment in a movie that feels off-tempo.

“Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” episodes had more suspense than “Cobweb” sustains while getting its answers. It's such a dull experience, I watched the movie twice in the hopes that maybe I missed something. I didn’t. I just watched a boring movie twice. Starr and Caplan have some fun acting out erratically, and Norman (who charmed audiences in “C’mon C’mon”) plays the part of poor haunted Peter well enough to earn viewers’ sympathy. But this is not enough to electrify “Cobweb” back to life. Coleman doesn’t get much chance to shine in her limited role, but much of the camera time is spent on Peter, often alone or alone in his thoughts as his parents yell at him for one reason or another. For all the “Shining”-like dolly shots, sometimes incomprehensible dark cinematography, and the scarier “Coraline”-like feelings that maybe your parents are not who they seem, “Cobweb” is a dud best dusted away.

Now playing in theaters. 

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a critic, journalist, programmer, and curator based in New York City. She is the Senior Film Programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center and a contributor to RogerEbert.com.

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Film Credits

Cobweb movie poster

Cobweb (2023)

Rated R for horror violence and some language.

88 minutes

Cast

Woody Norman as Peter

Lizzy Caplan as Carol

Antony Starr as Mark

Cleopatra Coleman as Miss Devine

Anton Kottas as Timothy

Luke Busey as Brian

Jay Rincon as Principal Miller

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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