Peter (Woody Norman) is an 8-year-old boy who is continually rattled by an unexplained knocking noise coming from his bedroom wall. His parents, Carol (Lizzy Kaplan) and Mark (Antony Starr), assure him it’s nothing more than the old house creaking. Their rationalization falls apart when a young girl’s voice begins speaking to him from a hole he discovers in the wall. Peter subtly confesses his fear through drawing to his teacher, Miss Divine (Cleopatra Coleman). She comes to the house to check on his welfare, only to be harshly rebuked by Carol. I wouldn’t dream of telling you what happens from there.
Cobweb finds horror in a simple, yet unnerving question: What if you were a child and could not trust your parents? Everything that occurs during the movie stems from that idea. As kids, we look to our parents for safety, for stability. Peter grows to suspect that Carol and Mark are not only untrustworthy, they’re possibly evil. And since parents call the shots in a family, he’s helpless. Norman, who memorably teamed with Joaquin Phoenix in C’mon C’mon, sells Peter’s abject fear at realizing he’s at the mercy of adults who do not necessarily have his best interests at heart. He is their prisoner, forced to face whatever they choose to subject him to.
Once the power of the voice behind the wall is revealed, Cobweb’s horror jumps to another level. Director Samuel Bodin, working from Chris Thomas Devlin’s tight screenplay, uses a distinct visual style to help create a mood of dread. He strongly contrasts shadows and light. In select scenes, parts of the screen are dark, while others are over-illuminated. This has the effect of making you wonder what you can’t see in those hidden areas. The technique also simulates childhood fear, where you gravitate toward brightness because the dark is too eerie. Bodin’s sense of pacing is similarly striking. A sequence involving Miss Divine and a washing machine builds the sort of anxious tension that Alfred Hitchcock pulled off so well.
The movie’s other exceptionally strong element is the performance from Lizzy Caplan. She has a difficult task, needing to be credibly demented without veering into camp. The actress nails it, making Carol unsettling in how she can present as normal when she needs to. This is some of Caplan’s best work to date.
Cobweb’s ending is slightly abrupt, which can catch you off guard. In thinking about it for a minute afterward, I realized this is the only ending that makes sense. Once you realize what is being implied, you can see how well it ties into everything that has come before. And in many respects, the last few seconds are the most disturbing part of the film, as they take the central theme to its logical, harrowing conclusion. Everything about Cobweb creeped me out – the parents, the voice in the wall, the overall atmosphere. If you like horror, seek this one out.
out of four
Cobweb is rated R for horror violence and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.