The new horror movie Cobweb spins a genuinely scary tale, of a young boy who begins to fear his own parents, in all the warm autumn colors and October atmosphere of Halloween.
The first words on screen read, “One Week Before Halloween,” immediately setting the audience on a countdown to the big day, with the film taking place in the seven days leading up to and culminating on October 31st. And the holiday itself is more than just background set dressing, but is very effectively woven into the plot of the story, which deals in part with a young girl who disappeared years ago on Halloween Night.
The overall Halloween atmosphere is outstanding and present in almost every frame, as the entire film is bathed in shades of orange, from Miss Divine’s (Cleopatra Coleman) striped sweaters to the dim candy corn pallet lighting throughout Peter’s house, with abundant fall leaves and more pumpkins than far too many other Halloween-set movies can claim. The “garden” in Peter’s backyard consists entirely of pumpkins, in fact, some ripe and many dying from the black rot that his dad fears will infect the healthy ones. When Peter is sent to dig a hole in which to dispose of the rotted pumpkins, it’s a uniquely Halloween chore that has probably never been depicted on screen before.
Did I mention that there are a lot of pumpkins in this movie? While Peter’s parents, played brilliantly by Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr, don’t want him going out trick or treating in fear of what happened to the little girl down the street, someone sure planted a ton of pumpkin seeds in that backyard garden.
The small cast is top notch, with everyone delivering exceptional, nuanced performances that will only enhance repeat viewings, especially young Woody Norman, on whose shoulders the film rests, portraying Peter, who is troubled by the noises and eventual voice he hears inside a wall in his bedroom, and soon begins to fear that his parents are keeping a horrible secret from him. It is a terrifying premise, because there really is not much scarier than a young child afraid of his possibly-unhinged parents. It digs into a primal fear, and I felt legitimate chills a few times.
Director Samuel Bodin uses many simple, old school in-camera tricks and effects to paint an evermore eerie portrait of the family, like the parents’ giant-sized shadows framed on each side of a tiny and frightened Peter looking on, harkening back to the earliest horror movies of the silent film era. Bodin masterfully keeps the tension present and always building with Peter’s escalating anxiety about what he believes may be happening. This is a filmmaker who knows how to do the most with very little, mining the smallest details for maximum fear, in the grand tradition of horror masters like Romero, Craven, and Carpenter.
Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr are perfectly cast as the parents, consistently framed from the most terrifying heavily-shadowed angles, immersing the viewer in Peter’s point of view.
With a runtime of just under 90 minutes, not a second is wasted with any filler, as the central mystery is introduced in the opening scene, with each following night getting creepier, while each day brings new Halloween-themed activities at school.
Cleopatra Coleman is likable and believable as substitute teacher Miss Divine, who takes a special interest in Peter when he draws a uniquely disturbing picture rather than the friendly ghosts and goblins his classmates draw.
There is even a school bully scene involving Peter’s freshly painted pumpkin that is a direct nod to Tommy Doyle in John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween, and the movie takes place in a town called Holdenfield, which looks and sounds a lot like Michael Myers’ hometown, Haddonfield.
While the film’s biggest twist may not be too big of a shock for seasoned genre fans, it still sticks the landing and pays off carefully dropped breadcrumbs of hints with a satisfying gut punch that left me caught in its web.
Highly recommended, I predict this film will only grow in popularity as horror fans gradually continue to discover it in the coming years and will no doubt look forward to re-watching it each October, like returning to a favorite house for those special treats you can’t find anywhere else on Halloween.
Cobweb opens in select theaters this Friday, July 21, from Lionsgate.
You can watch the official trailer, as well as our trailer breakdown video, below.
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