2023 | rated R | starring Woody Norman, Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, Cleapatra Coleman | directed by Samuel Bodin | 1h 28m |
The last time we saw director Samuel Bodin, he was singularly helming all 8 episodes of the exceptional French horror series Marianne. Critically acclaimed and criminally underseen Marianne hit a creative home run by melding French supernatural horror with a Stephen King coming-of-age crowd-pleaser. With his low-tech, US debut film, Cobweb, Bodin brings that moody atmosphere, visually beautiful darkness to a feature that is barely 90 minutes, but is unfortunately hobbled by a weak story, pieced together from other horror ideas to create a Frankenfilm with an identity crisis.
Young Peter (Woody Norman) goes about his life as the son to strict parents Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr, The Boys) in their run-down house until one day he starts hearing a voice from the walls asking for help. Drawing the scenario in school raises an alarm in his teacher Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman, Infinity Pool) to investigate the parents, who clamp down on Peter in increasingly tough ways to keep him from telling stories that may or may not be tied to a child who disappeared on Halloween year’s ago.
With a director whose work I love and Caplan and Starr, two of my favorite actors working today, Cobweb has a delicious creative pedigree that has to produce something good. And a lot of Cobweb’s ingredients are very good. Visually beautiful, atmospherically perfect for a Halloween film with Caplan and Starr doing such interesting things that it keeps everything intriguing. All of which is why we take the film as a whole here and not blow it off as “crap” if it does something we don’t like. But there is a nagging back-and-forth even in it’s early moments that don’t make sense and ultimately lead to it’s undoing in it’s absurd final act.
The biggest problem is with Carol and Anthony. They’re too villainous. Bodin shoots them from a child’s perspective where Starr is for example, in one scene ominously back lit to a point where the movie is leaning so hard that they are the villains you have no choice but to conclude it’s setting up a twist where they aren’t. It’s so slim in exposition that we’re given no red herrings to believe only exactly what it wants us to believe. The movie sets up a promise in it’s opening act and proceeds to deliver exactly that it set up without any twists, turns or surprises. And again, where it goes is a hybrid of a collection of ideas that we’ve seen before from the aforementioned Stephen King influence on Bodin to movies like pseudo-supernatural movies like Housebound.
The third act gives away the ghost completely, finding a villain that pulls from both the natural and the supernatural in a deliberately confusing way that allows the movie to simply have the parts of both worlds that it wants in the moment. A low-lit, indie-stiff Malignant that folds the stories all together in a massacre that feels more like an obligatory Marvel movie battle than the natural ending to this story.
Cobweb has it’s good technical and performance qualities. Caplan and Starr are trying to do something interesting here and get undermined by Bodin’s lighting and camera work at every turn. But the story is ultimately disappointingly predictable. A movie that doesn’t quite know where it wants to land. More of a sizzle reel of promising talent than a fully fleshed out and thoroughly baked film. In short, if you haven’t, spend this Halloween with Marianne instead.