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Cobweb – Film Review

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cobweb film review
Cobweb – Film Review

Cobweb strums a very particular nerve. Home and family should be a comfort, something you can return to, no matter what happens when you are away from them. But what if this isn’t the case? What if you are a child, someone who needs them the most, and home and family are threats rather than a haven? What if you grew up as a fly on your family’s cobweb?

Cobweb stays at its main character’s side throughout the movie. It’s told from the perspective of an eight-year old boy, Peter (Woody Norman), who is bullied at school and returns to his creepy house that looks and feels more like a Victorian-era boarding house than a home. Which is imposing enough before you realise that his father is Homelander (Anthony Starr). If that wasn’t a clue that he should run away from home, we don’t know what is. 

At first, his parents seem cold and distant, rather than anything malevolent. His mum (Lizzy Caplan, Cloverfield and Now You See Me) is loving in a slightly arch way, pecking her son on the forehead each night. But Cobweb uses moments at school to let the masks slip. The first involves that old cliche, the crayon drawing, as Peter produces something that could be construed as a cry for help. His substitute teacher certainly thinks so, and makes a house visit. She’s not welcomed by the insular family.

The second moment is when Peter snaps after being pushed too far and does his own pushing: shoving his bully down the stairs. He’s expelled, and the reaction from his parents gives ‘being grounded’ new meaning. The substance of Cobweb becomes clear: the horror isn’t at school, it’s at home.

But who, or what, is the threat? Because there’s a parallel silk thread running through Cobweb. Something else might be going on. Peter hears soft, girl-like voices in the night, and whenever he knocks on the bedroom wall, they knock back. He’s certain that something is there. Does his parents’ dysfunction run even deeper? Is there someone locked up in the house? Or is there something else going bump in the night?

Watching Cobweb soon after The Boogeyman makes for an interesting comparison. The Boogeyman takes similar themes of a home – and particular a bedroom – being a place of fear rather than comfort, and children being gaslit about why. Nobody believes poor Peter, just as no one believed the kids in The Boogeyman. And the endings feel reminiscent of each other in a way that we’d prefer not to reveal. But while The Boogeyman goes about its work with some subtlety, Cobweb has the nuance of a big ol’ brick being chucked through the windows.

Really, there’s no debate over whether the family is evil. You can tell from every lingering shot on their twitchy faces. The question of whether the girl next door is real or imagined would have been an interesting vein to mine, but Cobweb gets bored and finds other things to focus on. Cobweb isn’t interested in grey areas. Anywhere that could feasibly be a slow burn, be left to interpretation or deviate from expectation, well, Cobweb doesn’t fancy it. Cobweb likes its horror big, brash and campy.

And who are we to complain? There’s definitely a place for that style of horror. Cobweb’s got some moments where events are entirely predictable, but it’s fun to watch them unravel regardless. A dream sequence telegraphs itself as a dream sequence, but we didn’t care: it rides an extremely fine line between chucklesome and effective and just about lands of the latter. In the final moments, Cobweb borrows some of the best tricks from Japanese horror, and the result is daft but makes great use of particular body parts. All the while, Peter does a sterling impression of the kid from The Shining. 

And because Cobweb has an aggressive ‘let’s get on with it, shall we’ approach to its horror, it can be genuinely tense. If Peter spies a hole in the wall and puts his eye up to it, you know that something startling is going to happen, but there’s a perverse streak to Cobweb so you don’t know what it will be. If there’s an opportunity to go bump in the night, it will shake the house down. Which comes with its own tension. 

But please don’t come away thinking that Cobweb is of a high quality. We bring back The Boogeyman comparison: Cobweb is not as artful (although the monster and set design comes from some high drawers), and its themes are less subtle and may as well be printed out as comedy t-shirts. The acting is broad, with Anthony Starr playing the role of grizzly patriarch and Lizzy Caplan as the conflicted matriarch, with virtually no rounding out of the characters beyond that. There’s every chance that the dream sequence and monster madness makes you chuckle rather than grip the sofa.

It could have jettisoned a few cliches, too. The bullies come a-cropper; the substitute teacher will do everything in her power to be Peter’s white knight. Some whispers of past crimes in the community may eventually implicate the family. Within the first forty-five minutes, we could probably have laid out the events of the subsequent forty-five minutes. Cobweb is predictable in its plotting but effective in its thrills, and they just about cancel each other out. 

Cobweb satisfies a very particular horror hunger. If you’re in the mood for something overblown and silly that – somehow – doesn’t lose its capability to thrill, then this is quite the meal. But if your hunger is deeper than that, and you’re eager for something new, clever or with nuance, then Cobweb won’t satisfy. Think of it as a horror film to be enjoyed with mates, rather than one to savour on your own.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Great monster design
  • Fun, overblown tone
  • Has a couple of spill-your-drink moments
Cons:
  • Full of cliches
  • Can stray into too much silliness
  • Entirely predictable
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 28mins | 2023
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Great monster design</li> <li>Fun, overblown tone</li> <li>Has a couple of spill-your-drink moments</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Full of cliches</li> <li>Can stray into too much silliness</li> <li>Entirely predictable</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 28mins | 2023 </ul>Cobweb - Film Review
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