Cobweb (2023)

JANUARY 8, 2024


It’s been a long time since Lionsgate took the time to make a horror movie with notable actors and then just randomly burned it off on a few screens with no advertising, so the makers of Cobweb can take solace in that they’re reviving a tradition! It joins the likes of Blood Creek, Haunting in Connecticut 2, Repo, and probably others I’ve forgotten, except the key difference is that I wasn’t able to make it out to one of those random screenings when it opened last July against "Barbenheimer" (a very busy time for whatever reason; it took me a month to see Oppenheimer and I still haven’t seen Barbie). I toyed with the idea of making it a blind buy a few times, but now that it’s popped up on Hulu I saved myself the 20 bucks but also actually used my Hulu account for something besides What We Do In The Shadows, so it’s a real win win.

Especially since, as it turns out, it’s not a movie I need to see again, so that Blu-ray would have gone back for 9 cents in trade-in value. It’s a pretty good movie and worth watching, but it’s also one of those movies that presents a “Are they evil or not?” mystery that, once you know the answer, renders it less interesting to rewatch (on that note, I threw it under "thriller", but only because the specific sub-genre is also a spoiler). It also has a terrible final scene that knocked it down a peg (read: Letterboxd star) for me, so that didn’t help. But your mileage will vary, of course – a number of friends called it among the best horror films of the year, and (spoiler) I’d never want to turn folks off from seeing a horror movie that actually has the stones to kill a kid.

The plot is pretty simple and straightforward: a bullied kid named Peter (weirdly, same kid from Last Voyage of the Demeter, which was released around the same time and where HE was surprisingly killed) hears noises in his room and his strict, clearly “off” parents (Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr) keep chalking it up to an overactive imagination. But given their hesitance to let him go out much beyond school, or have people over, and other odd behaviors, it’s clear the parents are hiding something and that the noises – which eventually become the voice of a girl asking for help - are probably in fact very real, but the movie doesn’t come right out and say so. So, while it often works as it should in keeping you in suspense, it’s a movie where the would-be antagonist can never really go too far into villain territory because then we’d know they are indeed evil, nor can they just explain what’s going on because then there’s no movie.

And so for an hour we watch scene after scene of the parents acting mildly threatening but never outright BAD, until the runtime reaches a point where we can learn the secret of the noises in the walls and what, if any, the parents’ involvement is with them. I was slightly disappointed that it ends up being a variation of the reveal in another genre movie from 2016 (the title of which will be too much of a spoiler, but if you want a hint: it had a sequel that I disliked!), but the villain is a memorably creepy one all the same. Plus, it makes up for the first hour's balancing act by decimating a group of bullies who came to torment Peter, including an offscreen but still somewhat startling beheading (we see the aftermath via the still walking body). There’s some unfortunate CGI in these moments that hampers their effectiveness a bit, but it’s forgivable when you consider how much the movie decides to earn its R rating after a full on PG-13 first hour.

But man, that final scene. Without spoiling its particulars, it basically feels like there was a five minute epilogue of sorts that they decided to cut down into 60 seconds with narration by the villain. Why they’d do that I don’t know; it’s not a very long movie and the credits run at a crawl to pad it up to (almost) 90 minutes, but it really does a disservice to the film. It’s hard to tell if the images we’re seeing are imagined or an actual future for the hero (we see him in a different bedroom, so it seems he moved to a happier environment), and it also weakens the “I’ll be back someday” threat the villain is attempting to make. WILL it be back? Or is it just leaving the kid forever scared at the idea it *might*, like some kind of boogeyman? It’s unclear, but the credits run long enough to debate it with whoever you’re watching with!

(Fairly clear evidence that this was a re-edit is given right at the top of the film, as we see two editors listed with the second being Kevin Greutert, who when he’s not making Saw films is basically the horror industry’s go-to editor for reworking movies that are coming up short with test audiences.)

Otherwise: pretty good little creeper! Caplan and Starr do a fine job of walking their fine line between “strict parents” and “possibly murderers”, and along with Castle Rock (amusingly, the reason I got Hulu in the first place) serves as a fine reminder that Caplan is a terrific actress, since she's best known for being hilarious and charming in things, but can adapt to genre roles with uncanny ease. And as a Last Man on Earth fan I was happy to see Cleopatra Coleman in something, playing the kid’s obligatory “teacher who notices something is wrong and oversteps her boundaries” (I got some real Antlers vibes at times, in fact). The score, attributed to “Drum & Lace” (Sofia Hultquist) is quite good, and perhaps best of all, it’s a Halloween-set movie but without going overboard with it or dropping in overt homages to Carpenter (a bully does smash a pumpkin, but it doesn’t play like a tribute to Tommy’s). Given the “lonely kid trying to help a possible ghost” plot, I think it’d pair nicely with Lady in White, in fact.

Ultimately it’s not hard to see why Lionsgate buried it; with violence toward kids and a plot that doesn’t give them much to market it around (i.e. an action figure-ready villain), it was probably never going to be a big theatrical hit anyway, though I always wonder why it is they make these movies in the first place – don’t they know from the script that it’s not going to be something the mainstream masses will latch on to? And it’d work just as well at home to boot, so: sure, let’s get it onto streaming services as quickly as possible. But with the strikes and lingering production slowdown from the pandemic, you’d think any finished movie would be worth giving a shot to just in case it connects, plus horror fans don’t exactly get spoiled by a glut of movies throughout the year and would probably show up out of curiosity if they knew it was there. I just wish I could give it a fully committed endorsement, but that final 90 seconds and maybe a few too many “if they just say ______ the movie would end so they’ll be vague and weird for no other reason” moments keep it in “Yeah it’s pretty good, go ahead and watch it if you have Hulu” territory, but not as "background viewing" the way so many streaming films are. It's worth your full attention!

What say you?


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget