Review: ‘Cobweb’ (2023), starring Lizzy Caplan, Woody Norman, Cleopatra Coleman and Antony Starr

October 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Woody Norman in “Cobweb” (Photo by Vlad Cioplea/Lionsgate)

“Cobweb” (2023)

Directed by Samuel Bodin

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Pennsylvania, the horror film “Cobweb” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An 8-year-old boy thinks that a mysterious girl is living inside the walls of his house, while his parents try to convince him that he’s imagining things. 

Culture Audience: “Cobweb” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr or slow-moving horror movies that aren’t very imaginative.

Lizzy Caplan in “Cobweb” (Photo by Vlad Cioplea/Lionsgate)

“Cobweb” struggles to be a creepy horror film, and it falls very short of being terrifying or suspenseful. There are too many monotonous stretches of this sluggishly paced movie. The mediocre acting performances and poorly conceived ending don’t help.

Directed by Samuel Bodin and written by Chris Thomas Devlin, “Cobweb” certainly had the potential to be a much better horror movie. The problem is that “Cobweb” has too much stagnant repetition that doesn’t do much to move the story forward. Even some of the principal cast members look bored during crucial parts of the film, which is filled with a lot of weak jump scares that don’t really go anywhere. The essential plot of “Cobweb” gets run into the ground very early.

Taking place in an unnamed city in Pennsylvania, “Cobweb” focuses on the Hall family and what appears to be the family’s haunted house. (“Cobweb” was actually filmed in Bulgaria.) Carol Hall (played by Lizzy Caplan) and Mark Hall (played by Antony Starr) are parents to 8-year-old Peter Hall (played by Woody Norman), who is alarmed because he keeps hearing things inside the walls of their house. The movie’s opening scene shows a frightened Peter waking up his parents at night because he heard noises coming from inside a wall.

Carol knocks on the wall and says she doesn’t hear anything. She tells Peter: “This is an old house. There’s bound to be bumps in the night.” As Carol tucks Peter into his bed, she adds, “You have a great, beautiful imagination.” The family house is predictably dark inside and somewhat shabby. Apparently, the Hall family doesn’t know the meaning of having lightbulbs with regular wattage.

Peter is a student at Holdenfield Elementary School, where he is bullied by a fellow student named Brian (played by Luke Busey), who is a stereotypical brat in a movie. A substitute teacher named Miss Devine (played by Cleopatra Coleman) notices that artistically talented Peter is withdrawn and troubled because he’s too frightened to go outside for recess. Miss Devine takes an interest in Peter’s well-being.

One evening, when the Hall family members are having dinner together, Mark tells Peter that a girl named Rebecca Holbrook, who lived on the same street, disappeared from the neighborhood on Halloween a few years ago. Rebecca still has not been found. The house where Rebecca lived is now abandoned and boarded up.

Carol says to Peter about Rebecca’s disappearance: “It was a very traumatic event for everyone in the neighborhood—and I personally don’t like remembering it.” Peter nervously asks Carol, “Am I going to disappear?” Carol assures him: “Peter, of course not. No. We would never let that happen to you.”

But then, it should comes as no surprise in a predictable horror flick like “Cobweb,” Peter starts to hear a girl’s voice talking to him from the walls in the house. She won’t say what her name is when Peter asks her. It’s an obvious way that the movie wants viewers to think: “Is the girl trapped in the walls the ghost of Rebecca Holbrook?”

“Cobweb” is yet another horror movie where a child makes disturbing drawings that are noticed by adults. Peter’s illustrations are seen by Miss Devine, who thinks that Peter might be getting abused at his home. And you know what that means: Miss Devine is going to show up at the Hall house unannounced to ask the types of questions where she’s acting more like social services worker than a substitute teacher.

Carol, who is a former teacher, is offended that anyone would question the parenting skills of Carol and Mark. There’s also a long stretch of the movie about the bullying that Brian inflicts on Peter, what the adults and Peter do about it, and how the violent bullying escalates. Throughout the film, Mark is portrayed as mysterious and a little weird. Carol is overprotective of Peter and very neurotic about not letting him get too close to the other students at school.

At least half of “Cobweb” rehashes the same things in a very bland manner: Peter hears sounds, such as a girl’s voice, in the walls. His parents tell him that he’s imagining these things. At school, Peter is bullied by Brian. Meanwhile, Miss Devine becomes convinced that something very wrong is going on in the Hall household.

Norman’s performance as Peter is adequate but not very interesting compared to child performances in other movies about kids who experience horror that is not believed by adults. Caplan portrays Carol as the type of Stepford-like housewife whose smile looks forced and whose mannerisms suggest that she’s hiding a lot of secrets. Starr’s performance as Mark is particularly stiff and flat. Coleman gives an average portrayal of Miss Devine, who is written as a generic character.

Of course, the reason for the noises in the wall is eventually revealed. That revelation doesn’t come until the last 20 minutes of the film, which is ruined by a ludicrous showdown that is just stupid, not scary. The big reveal just brings up questions that the movie never bothers to answer. The end of “Cobweb” hints that there’s potential for a sequel, but considering there’s very little about this tedious dreck that is crowd-pleasing, this “Cobweb” is a mess that is better off being swept aside and forgotten.

Lionsgate released “Cobweb” in U.S. cinemas on July 21, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on August 11, 2023, and on Blu-ray and DVD and September 12, 2023.

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