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‘Cobweb’ is a trope-filled maze of bad dreams and puzzling story choices

Evil parents and a potential visitor torment an eight-year-old in a horror film that is disinterested in subtlety.


You would think that eight-year-olds would have things relatively easy, but not when it comes to Peter (Woody Norman). Cobweb depicts him as a loner at school, making him the target of some jerk bullies. To make matters worse, the kid is terrified to go out during recess, and his home life is creepy. At first glance, Peter’s parents Carol and Mark (played by Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr), seem to care for their son, but an uneasy attachment radiates off them. Their body language feels like something is always wrong. At night, Peter hears a tapping inside his bedroom wall – to which his mother quickly says it is nothing. (chalk it up to an overactive imagination. The parents sure do!).

Director Samuel Bodin has a lot of elements at play here. Some parents are hiding something evil in their past to the extent they won’t let Peter go trick-or-treating on Halloween (we find out a kid went missing on that day in their small town). When Peter interacts with the tapping, a girl's voice claims to have been kept prisoner by Carol and Mark – surely Peter doesn’t know his parents as well as he thinks.

One of the glaring issues within that theme is that the film doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. Caplan and Starr are uncomfortably creepy to the point where they play that role too well. Before we even get to the mystery person in the wall, there’s a loss of all questioning who is wrong because you already hate the parents. They punish Peter by grounding him by locking him in this creepy basement – all the while, he’s listening to this person that says they are his sister fill him in on tailored exposition about the past. Writer Chris Thomas Devlin strives to keep your mind guessing who is wrong. However, given what occurs in the third act, perhaps no one is.

When Cobweb doesn’t seem like it knows where to go past the menacing expressions from Caplan and Starr, it elects for conventional horror setups to keep things moving. While Peter is at school, he makes some drawings that get the attention of substitute teacher Ms. Devine (Cleopatra Coleman). Out of concern, she calls the residence, and both parents assure her everything is fine while taking things out on Peter on the other end. At the center of the horror aspects of this film are the horrible effects of child abuse. Peter needs to get out of his situation, and at least narratively, the film plays up to that aspect.

With that being said, many of the jump scares and overuse of upside-down camera shots don’t serve the eerieness of the concurrent murder mystery and third-act reveal. If anything, things either happen off-camera too quickly when the ultimate reveal happens or is shown in such low light that you can’t put the pieces together. Cobweb draws some inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe's short story, The Telltale Heart, (yes, the knocking = the beating of the heart), and it works because the narrator’s guilt builds to such a level that he can’t take it any longer. The central family within Cobweb has a house with a backyard with an obscene amount of rotting pumpkins in the backyard.

You don’t get a sense these people want to hide from what they potentially did. This unremovable smell of disbelief dilutes the tension and the seriousness of the story that’s trying to be told.