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After turning heads with the well-received but short-lived Netflix original horror series MariannaFrench director Samuel Bodin moves to feature films with the visually compelling but ultimately disappointing thriller, Spiderweb. Written by Chris Thomas Devlin, who tried to rejuvenate the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise in 2022, the script landed on the Black List of the best unproduced screenplays of 2018, as did its horror counterpart, the Blood List. That pedigree has clearly helped draw a solid cast and craft team, but after a promising set-up, the story’s internal logic gets muddled.
Suspenseful while rarely scary, the film takes place a week before Halloween and depends for a good part of its runtime on the reliable horror trope of the menace from inside the house.
Tangled up in its own ambiguities.
Release date: Friday 21 July
Launch: Lizzy Caplan, Woody Norman, Cleopatra Coleman, Antony Starr, Luke Busey, Aleksandra Dragova, Jay Rincon
Director: Samuel Bodin
Screenwriter: Chris Thomas Devlin
Rated R, 1 hour 28 minutes
It effectively challenges the natural family dynamic of parents as protectors of the vulnerable, giving the young protagonist, Peter (Woody Norman, from Come on come on), reason to fear his mother and father, Carol (Lizzy Caplan) and Mark (Antony Starr), and reason for the public to believe their apparent malevolence. The mystery at the heart of the story is how much of this is the product of what Peter’s mother calls her “overactive imagination.”
Bullied at school, Peter is a brooding, lonely kid with a shock of hair reminiscent of Danny Torrance, just as cinematographer Philip Lozano’s treacherous tracking shots around the family home take cues from the unnerving Steadicam sequences in the Overlook corridors Hotel In The brilliant.
When Peter begins waking up in the middle of the night to a strange banging noise coming from his bedroom walls, Carol dismisses it as the inevitable creaks and groans of any old house, this one lit in perpetual darkness to add to the boy’s discomfort. . Mark says they’re probably rats in the walls, squirting venom from a large bag that practically advertises itself as Chekhov’s gun.
Even when Peter’s kindly substitute teacher, Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman), comes by to show her parents a morbid drawing he made in class – of himself in a dark room shouting “Help me” – Carol dismisses it with more annoyance than concern.
Peter learns from his parents that years before he was born, a girl who lived in a boarded-up house down the street went missing on Halloween and has never been found. This is why they refuse to let him go trick-or-treating.
But the more time Peter spends alone in his room, the more he begins to communicate with the mysterious presence in the walls, which morphs from knocking into full-on conversations. When the disembodied voice encourages Peter to reject Brian (Luke Busey), his bullying nemesis at school, his actions get him expelled, leading to harsh punishment from his father.
It is at this point that the sinister side of Peter’s parentage becomes virtually indisputable, and a return visit from Miss Devine causes them to respond defensively bordering on hostility. When the voice coming from his bedroom wall tells Peter that his boys aren’t what they seem, he has no problem believing it.
Tensions build as more is revealed about Carol and Mark’s dark secret and the initially invisible presence in the house. But despite the persuasive work of the actors, the film loses rather than gains traction. While there is an obvious debt to Wes Craven People under the stairsthe more Devlin’s script does to explain the enigma behind hidden doors and between walls, the less cohesive everything becomes.
The spiral of violent carnage will likely offer to audiences unconcerned with plot point; not only family members, but also Brian and his bigger offending cousins become targets. Lozano’s images are consistently gripping, with formidable use of shadows to wicked effect. And Italian trip-hop composer Sofia Hultquist’s tonally varied score, known professionally as Drum & Lace, is a keeper, starting out with elegant restraint before giving way to more menacing notes and only gradually ascending to full-blown chaos.
But the filmmakers blur the lines as they reveal the hidden threat, through the nervous physicality of Aleksandra Dragova and the contrasting voice work of Olivia Sussman and Debra Wilson. The influence of Linda Blair’s famous spider walk The exorcist can be seen in some of the motion, and the title is a hint at the gruesome creatures the house’s clandestine resident has studied to hone his lethality. But is it human or supernatural, mortal or monster? Spiderweb keeps the answers to these questions too vague to be satisfactory.