Eight-year-old Peter is disturbed by mysterious, constant tapping noises coming from inside his bedroom wall – a noise that his parents believe is purely a figment of his imagination. As Peter’s fears grow, he becomes convinced that his parents may be hiding a terrible and dangerous secret and questions their trust.
While the strange and unusual world of Samuel Bodin’s “Spider’s Web” has enough unsettling energy thanks to Philip Lozano’s eerie cinematography, it falls short of its terrifying ambitions. The jump scares seem less sensational and the twists are predictable. It’s a delicate vine, but that’s it, all air and little substance, like a pot of water that never seems to boil. Look, even though we can do it, something goes wrong and the ingredients never come together to make a satisfying meal.
The basic horror movie elements are present: We have Peter (Woody Norman), a bullied loner who hears things he shouldn’t and whose Halloween is ruined by two disconcerting parents, Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr). There’s also a caring teacher named Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman) who worries more about Peter’s wellbeing than his parents, and then there’s the otherworldly voice in the wall, whose character is a surprise I won’t spoil. Despite its supernatural creepiness, and yes, spiders, Bodin and writer Chris Thomas Devlin (who previously wrote the 2022 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) have the skeletons of a horror movie, but not one that feels fleshed out.
“Cobweb” is riddled with misdirection—things are thrown into the story but never really amount to anything. For instance, there’s the mystery of a missing trick-or-treater that Carol and Mark tell Peter is the reason he is not allowed to enjoy Halloween, and while it comes up once or twice, once that mystery is solved, it just kind of fizzles out. Bullies torture Peter, but no one really addresses them until Peter reacts violently, then they disappear again until the end for one (again, predictable) climactic showdown. In one of the funnier misfires, Miss Devine visits Carol and Mark to ask about Peter and notices Mark has a gaping slash down his forearm. “You’re bleeding,” she tells him. “I’m just doing some remodeling,” Mark responds smugly. “Loose nail. Don’t worry about it.” And just like that, the subject is dropped. He wipes a not-insignificant amount of blood off his arm and questions her. What was the purpose of the scene? To establish something’s off with Mark? That’s telegraphed in many other moments. Was it just another weird, stilted exchange to threaten Miss Devine (what a name) off of finding out what’s happening to Peter? The scene is just another off-beat moment in a movie that feels off-tempo.
“Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” episodes had more suspense than “Cobweb” sustains while getting its answers. It’s such a dull experience, I watched the movie twice in the hopes that maybe I missed something. I didn’t. I just watched a boring movie twice. Starr and Caplan have some fun acting out erratically, and Norman (who charmed audiences in “C’mon C’mon”) plays the part of poor haunted Peter well enough to earn viewers’ sympathy. But this is not enough to electrify “Cobweb” back to life. Coleman doesn’t get much chance to shine in her limited role, but much of the camera time is spent on Peter, often alone or alone in his thoughts as his parents yell at him for one reason or another. For all the “Shining”-like dolly shots, sometimes incomprehensible dark cinematography, and the scarier “Coraline”-like feelings that maybe your parents are not who they seem, “Cobweb” is a dud best dusted away.
Now playing in theaters.