Why do movies come out when they do? A simple question but the answers are complex. The actual solutions and science behind the right time to release a horror movie are up in the air. Why not put them out in the Summer? It depends on what kind of horror movie it is, for one, whether it’s attached to a franchise and if it carries sufficient Summer Vibes. Cobweb is an anomaly because it is so specifically autumnal in its theming and execution.
Why not release it the very same day in theaters — July 21 — as Barbie and Oppenheimer? Everyone will be at the theaters anyway. They wouldn’t be seeing Cobweb and there wouldn’t be screens available to it, but they would technically be at a facility that exhibits movies when this movie would come out. Released alongside the year’s two most popular films and a week ahead of the Sundance-buzzy Talk to Me, the release strategy feels, at best, like a plan determined to fail. Subsequently, the film was quickly dropped on Video-on-Demand for a pretty low price, another random strategy. The only hope for the movie is that seasonal curiosity will strike with the forthcoming Halloween season because it’s a darn fine seasonal chiller.
Cobweb is constructed with a tight web of layered parts, the dual fabric of the story being about whether a young boy’s parents are demented or if his sister, who is locked inside the walls of their house and talks to him at night, is the corrupted one. Perhaps everyone is out to get young Peter (Woody Norman). He has about the same luck at school, where he is bullied. There is a chilling subtext of abuse baked into the walls and floorboards of the house. When Peter’s sister begins communicating with him, through a spider, then taps through the wall, she tells him it’s time to stand up for himself. He breaks one of the bully’s legs and leaves his parents tortured with the realization that their daughter must be communicating with him… from the dead.
What works for Cobweb is the clean concision of the approach. It plays out like a horror novella. Short, sweet, you get to the horror right away. It doesn’t waste time building up jump scares and trying to manipulate discomfort through timing and surprises. The film, instead, opts to almost always work inside the mode of terror. That works out well for the debut feature director Samuel Bodin, who is expressly channeling the 1989 Bob Babalan movie Parents, for all it’s worth. Here, it’s worthy of the original presentation, and then it keeps adding some layers. Whether every layer works in a logical plot-forward way doesn’t really matter because we move from one event to the next one so quickly.
There is just enough visual precision to land the gags and scares. Not enough horror movies realize the power of just showing a real spider crawling around. That’s good enough. No further special or visual effects are needed. That conveys what we need here, as the sister-in-the-walls seems to conjure these spiders to do her bidding and eventually, to convince her brother to unleash her will upon the family. The movie takes place during Halloween and has all the right accouterments — old rotted pumpkins and a trick-or-treating prank gone horribly awry. It does the things you want and is fast enough to get out of its own way if it does not land any of these moments.
The truth about marketing horror movies is that it is an evergreen genre. You can put them out any day of the year and someone will go and see them. If the budgets are well-considered, it’s also the genre most likely to turn a tidy profit. The problem is that studios don’t always know what they have and do not honor their releases with the same gravity and care as their Holiday-releasing dramatic fare. Lionsgate chose the one day of the year, launching against a frenzied surge back to the theaters, not to release their horror movie.
Cobweb isn’t perfect in any sense but it is always serviceable. The plotting moves too fast and doesn’t flow like it’s been properly charted and organized. It’s fast-paced but does not always balance the horror against anything else, it’s just here to do this one job and do it steadily. It’s hard to pull apart the singular moments, without just saying a few of the reasons you should watch the movie outright, which is the crux of its marketing problem, an effective trailer would be the whole movie.
Cobweb doesn’t always have the shiniest effects or standout visuals, but it maintains a steady creepiness that does just enough. Much like Talk to Me, its biggest issue is that it ends before the story is done. There is a climax and then an ending. There is more to say in both movies which lack definitive statements despite strong genre work, and like so many horror entries, they suggest sequels, but for Cobweb, it seems especially unlikely we’ll ever get to see the open-ended ending concluded. Mired by a bad release strategy and without any truly high-concept hook, Cobweb does offer audiences a matter-of-fact chiller that does get under your skin with the efficiency of a Joe Hill short story, and comes with a call to action: fit this movie into your October plans, it likely needs your support.