‘Cobweb’ – Silly, Sophomoric and Undeniably Spooky

You'll giggle, then wince at this uneven but entertaining shocker

Horror movies aren’t immune to plot holes and leaps of faith. Heck, many cling to them for dear life.

Even the best horror movies have moments that leave audiences scratching their heads. It doesn’t matter as long as the atmosphere is creepy and the jump scares give way to the real deal.

“Cobweb” pushes that leniency to the max. Key characters are instantly suspect and the resulting plot twists prove daffier than a certain duck. 

What director Samuel Bodin does with those raw materials is the film’s decadent treat.

Cobweb (2023) Official Clip ‘Miss Devine House Visit’ - Lizzy Caplan, Cleopatra Coleman

“Cobweb” opens in such a familiar fashion you’ll swear you’ve seen the film before. Maybe twice.

Young, depressed Peter (Woody Norman) is at war both at home and in school. The local bullies tease him mercilessly outside the classroom, but when he gets home it’s his uber-strict parents’ turn.

Mama (Lizzy Caplan) has little patience for his sad-sack state, nor does his stern father (Antony Starr, bringing Homelander’s steely gaze to the production).

The lad is distracted by a knock-knock-knocking from within his bedroom wall. It happens again, and again, while his parents’ take even more callous measures to their parenting handbook.

Now that’s scary.

Does the within-the-wall presence offer another threat to Peter, or is it a chance to learn a larger truth he never expected?

It’s vital to tread lightly here, but just know both Caplan and Starr overplay their stern parenting pose from the jump. The story moves at a breakneck pace, too. That’s good news for those weaned on TikTok, but horror requires atmosphere, suspense and the slow escalation of tension.

Not here.

Cobweb (2023) Official Clip 'He’s Going in the Basement' – Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, Woody Norman

The film lays most of its card out on the table, to the point where we expect to fight drooping eyelids during the third act.

Instead, the film’s manic pace and curious characters take on a deeper menace. Yes, some story beats remain too familiar, but Bodin expertly guides us through the family’s curious home in ways that are fresh and authentic.

It’s downright creepy, as are the revelations about the wall knocker and how it ties into the larger story.

The reveals don’t make perfect sense, sadly, robbing “Cobweb” of some satisfying texture. What the film uncorks is still unsettling and, finally, unexpected.

Don’t dwell on any one issue, though, or you’ll be distracted from the fright fest underway.

Performances veer from campy to confusing. The latter trophy goes to Cleopatra Coleman, who exudes compassion as Peter’s substitute teacher. She’s eager to learn more about her troubled charge, but she breaks every rule of the teacher handbook, and then some, to probe the mystery.

Coleman’s performance all but commands the audience to talk back to the screen, but it’s the screenplay’s fault, not hers.

Starr, so very good in “The Boys,” muffs the chance to show a different side to his talents.

“Cobweb” reminds us of “Malignant,” one of 2022’s worst films and a rare misstep for horror maven James Wan. That film took a farcical step in its opening moments and never regained its footings.

The same is similar here, but “Cobweb” eventually delivers both jolts and unease in a way “Malignant” couldn’t.

HiT or Miss: “Cobweb” isn’t a good film, but it’s a story that grabs you early and never comes close to letting go.

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