Something is rotten in Holdenfield the week before Halloween; “COBWEB”

Last Updated: August 24, 2023By Tags: , , , ,

The creators of the new horror film “Cobweb” and I are simpatico regarding the sad state of the modern horror film. My lack of patience with the unoriginality and lack of craft in most of today’s horror pictures is never-ending. In the twenty-first century it is rare to find a filmmaker who knows how to use mood to right effect. Make no mistake, there are some very talented horror filmmakers working today. Directors such as Jennifer Kent, James Wan, Ti West, Julia Ducournau, and especially The Soska Sisters (Jen and Sylvia) are keeping the genre alive with originality, prowess, and respect for the craft.

Anthony Francis interviews the Soska Sisters

It makes my genre movie-loving heart happy to experience Samuel Bodin’s treasure of a horror film. This is a genre piece that is well-crafted, consistently interesting, and one that never loses its way.

Written by Chris Thomas Devlin there is no denying the film tips its cinematic hat to a few popular horror films. Perhaps the biggest homage can be found in the name of the town. Holdenfield is an on-the-nose nod to John Carpenter’s Haddonfield from 1978’s “Halloween,” with this film set during the spooky season as well. “Cobweb” doesn’t coast on the ghosts of films past. Boudin and Devlin are smarter than that and have created something quite clever.

Something is rotten in Holdenfield the week before Halloween. In this small Michigan town (filmed in Bulgaria!), lives Peter (a wonderful Woody Norman), an eight year-old grade schooler who lives with his strangely authoritarian parents (Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr). The couple forbids Peter from trick-or-treating. The reasons are unclear, but it may have something to do with the disappearance of a young girl who lived down the block. Peter’s parents are strange and more than a bit off. They keep professing their love for him, but this is far from a Norman Rockwell setting. Nothing Mom and Dad do or say seems pure. They are hiding something sinister. Are they evil? Did Peter’s parents have something to do with the missing girl? Why do they act so strangely?

The questions are presented without confusing the audience. Each layer is revealed with patience, as the screenplay never shows its hand too soon. The filmmakers skillfully allow their film to take its time.

Already a troubled child, Peter’s real terror begins when he hears noises inside his bedroom wall; movements that become knocks. The knocks eventually become the voice of a young girl who exists within the walls of the dark house. Peter’s school life gives him no solace from the horrors of his home life. The boy is bullied every day. Peter’s new teacher, Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman, an actress carving out a nice career) sees the trouble in the boy and suspects something is wrong at home. As Miss Devine begins to take an interest in Peter and comes to his house, the dark secrets held within begin to unravel themselves. It is here where the audience will want to put on their detective hats and try to figure out the mystery. A wise choice would be to let the film play out. Roll with each surprise, as the final act is something else.

“Cobweb” works on every level, a rarity in today’s cinema. Bodin and his cinematographer Phillip Lozano know how to hold onto the creepy atmosphere, doing so through patient camerawork. Lozano uses slow pans and establishing crane shots to craft a sense of place in the small town while blanketing every moment with a sinister aura. Alan Gilmore’s production design adds to the atmospheric dread. Holdenfield is a town of overcast skies that shade the Fall streets. Set during Halloween week, Gilmore creates a town filled with fallen leaves, pumpkins, and dimly lit streets where the homes are decorated for the season. Inside Peter’s house the design is more decayed, a representation of his cracking family unit.

Drum & Lace (aka Sofia Hultquist) signs an eerie score that mixes a classical piano style with deep synth compositions. The film’s score is the bow that ties the macabre atmosphere together.

The cast does well, with young Woody Norman the standout. The actor is genuine in his performance. The audience feels for him from the first well-designed scene, where Peter rides the bus to school and nervously walks into the building, knowing what waits for him. Chris Thomas Devlin’s screenplay handles the abuse Peter suffers from bullies and parents with care. Where the torment of the young leads in 2021’s overrated “The Black Phone” was sickeningly exploitative, Devlin and director Bodin are careful with Peter. The young boy is indeed in grave danger almost everywhere he goes, but the film doesn’t misuse this plot point. The screenplay wisely gives Peter heart and brain and makes the audience care for him.

Most horror films allow for moments of humor to alleviate the pressure. Bodin wants his viewers to be unnerved every second. His is a film where the tension breathes constantly. The director grants no reprieve. This is full-on horror from the beginning to the chilling end.

“Cobweb” is a potent film both because of its artistry and its ambition to thrill, horror audiences will hopefully find “Cobweb” as inventive, intense, and creepily entertaining as I did.

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