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Review: Cobweb (2023)

Cobweb (2023)

Directed by: Samuel Bodin

Premise: An eight-year-old boy (Woody Norman) hears a voice coming from inside his bedroom walls. He begins to suspect that his parents are hiding a sinister secret. 

What Works: Haunted house movies are often either about an evil that corrupts an otherwise good home or they are about some preexisting evil within the family. Cobweb is interesting in the way it weaves both of those ideas together. The film begins with eight-year-old Peter discovering a supernatural presence in his home but it’s unclear if this force is malevolent or not. Peter’s parents are eccentric and gradually revealed to be severe and even abusive; their choices might be sadistic or they might be driven by fear of something else and that uncertainty is in play until the climax. The ambiguity helps the film, making it unpredictable and giving Peter’s choices some credibility. The central performances of the film are quite good. Woody Norman plays Peter and he is frightened but also smart and Norman doesn’t play this young character as precocious. Antony Starr and Lizzy Caplan are cast as the parents. Starr and especially Caplan go broad with their roles and they are frequently threatening but there is something else to their characters. Caplan in particular conveys an impression of anxiety and guilt of a parent trying to create a perfect household in an imperfect world. In its last third, Cobweb goes off in some unexpected directions. It becomes freewheeling and unpredictable in a frighting way. The whole film has a spooky vibe. The filmmakers choose unusual angles and scenes are drawn out effectively to create tension.

What Doesn’t: Although the last third of Cobweb is unpredictable, quite a lot of the first third is reminiscent of supernatural child-in-danger movies. The beginning, establishing the bullied and socially isolated kid, feels cliché but the filmmakers later find their own path. Cobweb includes a subplot in which a substitute teacher (Cleopatra Coleman) takes an interest in Peter and even visits his home as a welfare check. This doesn’t seem credible—she’s a substitute and schools have procedures for suspicion of abuse—and not much comes of the teacher subplot. The imagery of Cobweb is often murky, making it difficult to make out the action. The storytelling is also muddled. Supernatural stories often have ambiguous endings but the conclusion of Cobweb leaves the viewer wondering what exactly happened and what, if anything, was won, lost, or affirmed by this story.

Disc extras: Featurettes.

Bottom Line: Cobweb is a modestly effective ghost story. The beginning is a little cliché but there’s enough craftsmanship and energy to merit a mild recommendation.

Episode: #971 (October 29, 2023)