Review: Family Secrets and Childhood Anxiety Don’t Add Much to Second-Rate Horror Film Cobweb

Adding to the long list of family dramas couched in the framework of a horror movie, Cobweb (the feature filmmaking debut of Samuel Bodin) tells the story of 8-year-old Peter (Woody Norman), who has trouble staying asleep at night because of a constant tapping from the other side of his bedroom wall—or more specifically, from inside the wall. His overly attentive/protective parents (Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr) insist that his wild imagination is inventing the noises, but when Peter starts hearing a girl’s voice (Ellen Dubin) call him by name and asking for help, it’s a little more difficult for him to write it off as a product of his imagination. Peter is also bullied at school, which isn’t helping with his self-confidence or the nightmares he sometimes has, but he does find solace in the form of his substitute teacher, Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman), who takes a special interest in this sweet kid who seems scared and sad most of the time.

A great deal of Cobweb is simply a waiting game. We know Peter’s parents are suspicious because they don’t act like normal people. They throw Peter in the dark basement for hours as punishment, and when Miss Devine shows up at their house to check on Peter’s well-being, they treat her like an enemy rather than an ally. We’re also waiting for some big reveal that tells us exactly who or what is inside the walls. And we assume that it and the parents are connected somehow, and probably not in a reassuring way.

With a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, the film captures the idea that, for some children, home is the entirety of their universe When things inside the home seem to turn against Peter, he doesn’t have anywhere else to go or hide, and that causes his unspeakable levels of anxiety. Everybody seems to be hiding something from somebody in Cobweb, but a great deal of the secrets here don’t amount to much, and honestly, the one big secret the parents are hiding doesn’t seem possible to hide as well as they do for so long.

Once the horror elements truly kick in in the final act, I’d already lost interest in anybody’s dilemmas or secrets, so while some of the scarier stuff is pretty effective, it all seems to be serving a story that isn’t especially engaging. I remember being quite impressed with young Norman’s performance in C’mon C’mon, holding his own with Joaquin Phoenix (in black and white, no less), but he’s just playing another scared, floppy-haired kid in Cobweb, and he doesn’t elevate the subpar material in any way. It has its visually stylistic high points, to be sure, but otherwise, this is a second-rate scare film.

The film is now available in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.