Childhood is that period of life where most often we can feel lonely and abandoned, such as the hapless protagonist of this 2023 movie, Cobweb.
Indeed, the story begins with little Peter, a young boy with no friends and always being ostracized and bullied at school by a classmate who constantly mistreats him amid the indifference of the other kids and teachers.
Moreover, things are no better at home either, since his parents, Carol and Mark, have oppressive strict rules, even forbidding him to go out and celebrate Halloween like everyone else.
To make matters worse, one night, Peter hears strange noises from the wall in his room. Initially thinking it is an animal moving in the crawl space, he stands in terror when a strange voice begins to speak.
However, the voice seems not to want to harm him but rather be his friend, but of course, his parents deny everything, claiming he hallucinated or was dreaming.
Meanwhile, at school, someone finally notices something is wrong with Peter; the young substitute teacher, Miss Devine, tries to warn the superiors of the situation, although they refuse to admit the problem.
The voice in the wall gives new confidence to Peter, who finally reacts to the bully even more than he should, breaking his leg and throwing him down a flight of stairs.
Even at home, the kid tries to stand up to his parents, but they react angrily to his behavior and, as punishment, chain him up in a hidden room in the house.
This is because the parents are frightened by the disappearance of a little girl many years before, on precisely Halloween night.
However, was it this little girl’s voice that she heard through the wall or that of the monster who took her?
Being afraid of family
Opening the curtain on Samuel Bodin‘s feature film debut shows good skill in horror cinema, above many colleagues who fail to touch the same level.
Contrary to the standard approach in the horror genre, which too often relies on the element of jumpscare to create tension, Bodin takes a more subtle and psychological route with an eerie atmosphere thanks to Chris Thomas Devlin‘s excellent script.
Devlin builds a tense, hostile, and danger-laden atmosphere around the young and vulnerable protagonist, especially his crazy and dangerous parents.
They are disturbing in their behaviors and the subtleties of the dialogue, almost more than the mysterious presence keeping a constant anxiety high.
Cobweb, however, is not a one-directional movie and offers several perspectives that differentiate it from many similar horrors in 2023.
Starting with a core of familial tension, the plot split in surprising but consistent directions that keep interest alive until the last frame.
Bodin has excellent control of the narrative pace, slow and reflective, while staying within the genre’s standard running time of about an hour and a half.
The manipulation poses questions that remain ingeniously unresolved until the final revelation, fueling the mystery that permeates every corner of the house in which the story unfolds.
Each scene contributes to a growing detachment from reality, and the characters evolve in ways as dark as they are disturbing, including young Peter, who, living in an environment full of tension and menace, inevitably loses his innocence.
Cobweb is an essential horror but stands as a metaphor for oppressive parents suffocating and destroying what they are trying to protect, and in this way, this 2023 movie rises from a simple scary tale to a chilling and resonant social commentary that is not so far from reality, in some cases.
The real monster is us?
Woody Norman shines with an outstanding performance as little Peter. The young actor is as charismatic as he is convincing, bringing an unexpected gravitas to such a young character.
His presence in the plot unfolding is undeniable; he is at the center of almost every scene, revealing a solid young talent with good believability in character.
Regarding psychological development, Peter goes through a remarkably well-constructed story arc. He initially comes across as a fearful victim, persecuted by bullies and his parents, from whom he seems to have no escape.
This emotional journey evolves further with the monstrous creature that initially terrifies him, then becomes a point of reference until the surprising final revelation that catalyzes an even more radical change in the character.
If Peter is the story’s innocent soul, the parents provide the natural fuel for terror.
In her portrayal of mother Carol, Lizzy Caplan is extraordinary in displaying a constant instability, fluctuating between seemingly genuine love and feral wrath, moving from sweet cookies to wide eyes of pure rage.
It is no accident that, at one point, Peter begins to dream nightmares about his mother rather than the monster.
Antony Starr, as his father Mark, offers a less explicit but equally disturbing kind of horror; instilling fear is more subtle, a commanding presence that terrifies without needing to be physically aggressive.
For example, the scene with sweet Miss Devine as he holds a hammer is a masterful example of palpable tension, even if it lacks some consistency in the character of the teacher played by Cleopatra Coleman.
Although the actress delivers a solid performance, her presence seems to appear and vanish for no apparent reason, finally returning with renewed heroic pugnacity in the bloody climax act.