Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Untouched Corners: Cobweb (2023) Review

Director: Samuel Bodin

Notable Cast: Woody Norman, Cleopatra Coleman, Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, Luke Busey


At a brisk runtime of 88 minutes, Cobweb still took at least 20 minutes for me to latch onto what it was doing. It was focused on the 8-year-old protagonist, the acting for the family - including his mother and father - felt four times larger than life, and the house they lived in felt like an intentional set, particularly when compared to his school life outside the home. 


I had only seen the trailer once, but my assumption from the trailer was that this film looked to capitalize on the “trauma horror” trend currently running circles in the genre. Still, this - this opening of the film all felt like it was two steps disconnected from reality in some heightened way, and my brain was desperate to figure out the tonal intent. Twenty-ish minutes in, it hit me like the clawed fingers of its spider-infested antagonist. Cobweb is a fairy tale horror flick. Not some high-brow artistic supernatural yarn. Duh. 


Once I finally grasped what this film would be with its more serious and realistic tone, I totally bought into it. Cobweb is a film that embraces this other-worldly, Halloween-injected-fun-scare style, wrapped in a fairy tale aesthetic, and is a tight, entertaining horror flick. It swirls its audience into a kind of silliness not unlike James Wan’s Malignant did with its blend and still manages to deliver just enough soul to sell the entire thing. By the time the bonkers final act came ripping out, I was fully cocooned in Cobweb - in all the best ways. 


Told from the viewpoint of a young 8-year-old boy, Peter, the film fully grabs onto a childlike innocence to its storytelling that revs up the fairytale qualities of its plot and characters. Its narrative is fairly straightforward as Peter’s strange family gets increasingly darker and more sinister with each passing scene. The only other adult of the film, his teacher Miss Devine, seems to be his only lifeline to a potentially dangerous home life. 


A fantastic performance by Woody Norman centers the film with its audience so that as the plotting and narrative continually get stranger and spiral further into the fantastical - ultimately taking a wild second-half spin that changes the viewer’s understanding of the film’s world - the viewer can buckle in for the ride.  


The adults of the film are all broadly painted caricatures, particularly compared to Peter, played by up-and-coming horror star Woody Norman, giving a strong-centered performance, and it immediately provides this film with a distance from reality. While the mom and dad (Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr, respectively) get to play out edgy paranoia and abrasive rule layers with melodramatic pop, Cleopatra Coleman tends to steal the show here. Her concerned substitute teacher’s intuition into Peter’s increasingly volatile home life breaths a sense of focus to the increasing madness of its plotting. She may end up being the film's highlight. 


As the monstrous creature that lives in the house with Peter becomes more and more of the forefront villain of the film, Cobweb starts swinging further and further for its fairytale motifs. The second half of the film is mainly dedicated to a vicious game of cat and mouse between our protagonist and this long-fingered spider-like entity, and it’s shot with a visual charisma by Samual Bodin that amplifies its tonalities. The more information about its plotting that’s revealed, the further it moves into the fantastical. It’s to the point that the choice to set the film around Halloween only benefits its atmosphere and style. This continued spiral down into the rabbit’s hole of surrealism will either leave viewers more invested or a little distanced, but for me, it was a brilliant maneuver that hooked me in - even when the film starts to bend its logistics to get to its goals. 


Now that Spooky Season is upon us, it’s the right time of year to really get caught up in Cobweb. Its seasonal setting, atmospheric touches, and increasingly fantastical fairytale-esque narrative make it a low-key big winner for the year. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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