Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Cobweb

FrightFest review – Cobweb

Directed by Samuel Bodin (the Netflox spooky series Marianne) and scripted by Chris Thomas Devlin (the Netflix franchise add-on Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Cobweb is a generally entertaining, intermittently chilling spookfest which still feels a little too much like what you’d get if you took pitches for separate ripoffs of Let the Right One In and Malignant and mashed them together.

It’s a hard film to review (beware mild spoilers!) because it drops plot bombs every reel or so which reframe everything we’ve seen before … the kid’s haunted … no, someone real is talking to him … the parents are wicked child-abductors … no, they’re just trying (very badly) to cope … or maybe the kid really is haunted … the parents are … uh, no, a couple of key characters got sidelined and someone new dominates the last act, which incidentally brings on the beaten bully’s older relatives out for revenge gambit from Let the Right One In but just to give the ambiguous long-haired jack o’lantern grinning contortionist wall-crawling ‘monster’ some extra people to do away with.  Peter (Woody Norman) is the imaginative, sensitive, oppressed kid who gets tripped up on a daily basis by Brian (Luke Busey) at recess and paints a disturbing ‘help me’ picture which prompts substitute teacher Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman) to worry about him.  At home, Peter is coddled by his slightly distant, wilfully odd parents (Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr – doing something like a somber take on the Mary Beth Hurt-Randy Quaid duo from Parents) who tell him it’s all in his imagination when he hears scratching in the walls (Dad puts down cinnamon-flavour rat poison, which should be a no-no) and then gets whispered to in his dreams.

Is this the ghost of a trick or treater who went missing before he was born?  Or a hider in the house?  Trace elements of the film’s supposed source, Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’.  Or an identikit of every would-be franchise spectre of the last fifteen years?  The parents are so shook up by that long-ago disappearance that they don’t let Peter dress up for Halloween, even though the yard is full of decaying pumpkins and the only lesson the school seems to have is a deep study of pumpkin carving.  In a not unconvincing development, Peter is expelled after fighting back against the bully – everyone in school is concerned that they have a Peter problem, but no one wants to address the Brian problem.  Unless the voice in the night – which talks about learning to climb and learning to bite – gets any say in it.

Like that TCM reboot, it was shot in Bulgaria – but since it doesn’t need specific American regional colour, Cobweb gets away with it – Bodin and his Marianne cinematographer give it a muted, shadowed, offputting look which is matched by the key creep performances.  Caplan, usually a charming livewire, and Starr, known as the grinning fascist of The Boys, do low-key, edge-of-hysteria stuff, though they also get to do broader freak-out business in a dream scene.  Behind the hole in the wall Aleksandra Dragova, Olivia Sussman and Debra Wilson play different takes on whatever she is.  Cobweb pitches into the domestic horror arena of The Black Phone or The Boogeyman, but they were based on controlled, concentrated short stories and had much more focus – but, on the upside, it’s also capable of going nuts in ways those machine-tooled scare pictures held back from.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.


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