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Cobweb ★★★



Director: Samuel Bodin

Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, Woody Norman, Cleopatra Coleman

Released: 1st September 2023 (UK cinemas)

When it comes to genre cinema, 2023 has been an uncharacteristically quiet year for theatrical horror. With the Halloween season finally upon us and the impending release of Saw X next month, horror cinema will soon be back in full force – at long last. However, this summer holds one final treat for genre fans: overlooked upon its theatrical release across the pond, Samuel Bodin’s feature debut Cobweb will grace UK cinemas this week, and something’s telling me this modest, moody horror flick will become a fan-favourite in the years to come.

Of course, it all starts in October: Peter (incredibly talented Woody Norman) is a smart loner kid who’s simply trying to get through primary school and its ever-present bullies. His situation at home doesn’t seem to help the case, either, as Peter’s strict parents are largely unsupportive of their child’s mental well-being. When Peter starts hearing strange noises emanating from the walls in the bedroom, his mother (Lizzy Caplan) tries to convince him it’s just the imagination playing tricks on the child – that is, until said “imagination” starts telling Peter to escape the house and its depraved inhabitants.

First impressions may often be deceiving, which is most definitely the case with Cobweb: the potential premise of “abusive parents are secretly monstrous creatures” sure sounds like a recipe for yet another “elevated horror” exercise, but this one is an entirely different beast altogether. If you’re familiar with Samuel Bodin’s previous genre effort, the mercilessly frightening Netflix series Marianne, you’d know that his priorities lie in the moment-to-moment spooks and dense, atmospheric terror. For his first feature, Bodin chose to adapt the infamous Black List screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin (the writer behind the perplexingly fantastic Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and it’s evident the director opted for a much more streamlined genre effort in lieu of trendy Social Issue horror.

As is the case with other debut films, Bodin borrows heavily from genre masters: shadows of Craven, Blatty, and even Wan are all over this work, although Bodin has enough formal expertise to craft his unique urban gothic rendition of the classic “creaky haunted house” aesthetic. Creaky floorboards, decaying walls, rotten pumpkins in the garden – it all feels surprisingly textured and delightfully sinister in places where the narrative stumbles ever so slightly. Cobweb relies on its meticulously staged scares and subtle formal touches that elevate it above most studio horror peers.

Having read the original screenplay, it’s curious to see just how much the film has changed since the draft, dating all the way back to 2018. While the story we see on screen retained much of its R-rated viciousness, the tone of the narrative has largely been altered towards Stephen King-like fantasy, rendered through genre cinema of the 2020s. For better or worse, Cobweb may just be the definitive studio horror film this year: a creepy, unambitious horror ride that will surely be a mainstay at repertory cinemas and horror-themed sleepovers.

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