Cobweb review: Samuel Bodin’s horror has solid scares

Woody Newman in Cobweb, directed by Samuel Bodin.
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In his feature debut, Samuel Bodin creates an intriguing mystery with good, albeit conventional, scares – here’s our review of Cobweb. 

Samuel Bodin’s French language horror series, Marianne, terrified Netflix audiences when the show landed in 2019. The success of the series landed him his first feature film, Cobweb. The movie marks not only his feature debut, but also his first project filmed in the English language. Hopes are high that Bodin has managed to maintain the fright-factor of Marianne without it getting lost in translation.  

Set, as all good horror movies always are, in the lead-up to Halloween, Cobweb joins young boy Peter (Woody Newman). Peter lives in a dark, vast house with his fairly odd parents – Mark (Antony Starr) and Carol (Lizzy Caplan). Simultaneously overbearing and cold, Peter’s parents are not like others. The two forbid him from trick-or-treating, citing the disappearance of a young girl years before as their reason. But when Peter begins hearing a strange knocking on his walls at night, Mark and Carol’s behaviour becomes deeply unsettling. What exactly lurks behind Peter’s bedroom wall and how does it connect to his parents? 

The mystery set in Cobweb is an interesting one. Bodin goes to great lengths to tease the viewer, adding plenty of red herrings and misdirection. The director appears to be working toward a Malignant-style reveal, though Cobweb sadly lacks the fun factor of James Wan’s last horror adventure. What Bodin does manage well however, is Cobweb’s setting. The house in which Peter and his parents reside is straight out of a Gothic novel. Every inch of it is shrouded in dark greys and black, with little light piercing the darkness. This absence of light reflects the lack of warmth of Peter’s own familiar bonds, which somehow makes Mark and Carol even more frightening. Starr and Caplan play the creepy parents as Grimm Fairy Tale characters with echoes of Coraline. The two are well versed at playing unhinged characters, but here they prove their ability to be scarily sinister. 

In terms of scares, Bodin sticks closely to conventional set-ups and tropes. This is his first feature and nerves appear to have crept in. Elements are not pushed as hard as in his previous work. There is also a disconnect between the primary and sub-plots. The best aspects of Cobweb occur within the walls of the family home, and yet, there is a side story involving Peter’s school life and teacher. This story is glossed over, hitting plenty of stereotypical scenarios – a new, overly invested teacher, over-the-top bullying, etc. What’s worse is that it feels disjointed; characters from the sub-plot pop up randomly and distract from what would otherwise be a great haunted house horror.  

The scattered and fractured plotting and pacing is, to some extent, redeemed by a third act that flips everything around. This upheaval should generate surprise from the audience, and it shows that Bodin isn’t all about sticking to convention. Just like Wan with the aforementioned Malignant, Bodin demonstrates a talent for tricking the viewer. Were Bodin to brave that path earlier on and forgo the routine elements of the earlier portion of the film, Cobweb would be a more appealing prospect. As it stands, Cobweb is accomplished enough to entertain for an evening, but how much more mileage it will have for viewers outside of that is unclear. A solid debut, Bodin showcases an aptitude for scare work, though more conviction in his ideas would have yielded something truly upsetting. 

Cobweb is in cinemas on 1st September.

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