Directed by Samuel Bodin, Cobweb is a well-made horror thriller, but the problem is that it gets trapped in its own intrigue and doesn’t manage to find a way out of the mess. The story begins by showing us the life of a boy named Peter. He gets bullied at school, and his father is too cold a figure. His mother seems to love him, but even she grows cold as time progresses. All manner of wicked things seem to be surrounding the young boy, and it all has to do with the voices coming from behind a wall in his bedroom. The premise of Cobweb is indeed intriguing, but does it even have a resolution, or is it just a pretext for bombarding the audience with cliches?
Chris Thomas Devlin wrote the film but forgot basic storytelling rules, and at one point, Cobweb started to seem like a parody of other horror films of the past. Nevertheless, there were some genuinely scary moments, even though they did very little for anybody’s character arcs. The characters in the film were never organically built up. It was assumed that everybody knew the tropes and that it would be better to just get to the fun parts. On one level, the film works because of it, but if the characters had been written in such a manner that they seemed more justified emotionally, if not logically, Cobweb would have been even more potent. Let’s take a look at the various characters:
Peter is the young boy the story revolves around. Cobweb pulls us in through his sad and frightened face. He is helpless, and nobody seems to understand him. In his home is his mother, Carol, who is neurotically overprotective of him. His father, Mark, is just the polar opposite of Carol. When Peter starts to hear noises coming from one of the walls of his bedroom, Carol comforts him, but Mark just pins the noise to the rats hiding in the pipes. Peter is not comforted in a way that would seem normal. Either Carol smothered him with her concern, or Mark came and chided him for disturbing his sleep. Everybody wanted Peter to reign in his imagination. The voices were real, though.
At one point, the voice said, ‘Help me’, and it was definitely a cry for help by a girl that was stuck behind the wall. Peter is just a kid, but this wasn’t just a case of a child having a wild imagination. Somebody was in trouble, and it turned out to be his own sister Sarah, whom Mark and Carol had kept hidden in a dungeon. He was being called to help his sister, and Peter wanted to rise to the challenge. She had helped him grow the courage to stand up against his bullies, and now she was asking him to go against Mark and Carol.
Peter was himself the victim of confinement, being locked up in the basement after he pushed his bully off the stairs and was expelled. He must have thought that if they could lock him up, they could have done the same to their daughter as well. Peter grew up alone in the house, with no friends or siblings. When he finally came to know that he had a sister and she needed to be rescued, he didn’t hesitate to poison his parents’ dinner. He harbored intense resentment against Mark and feared that Carol was submitting to his will. So he murdered them and released the ‘demon’ sister. She was pure evil, as it turned out. She killed everyone who came in her way and would have gotten to Peter had it not been for the efforts of his teacher, Miss Devine. Peter managed to get her trapped in the dungeon again but was left haunted by the sister. She had gotten her revenge through him.
Carol was conflicted all the time. At one point, she was the overprotective mother, and at other times, she too was like an extension of Mark’s will. Mark was cold and distant and did not show too much concern. Maybe Carol felt that she should drill it into Peter’s head that whatever they did, they did because, as parents, they loved him and didn’t want him to take the wrong path. She was perhaps afraid that Mark would harm Peter, and that’s why she wanted Peter to never make a mistake, neither at home nor at school. Peter was extremely obedient, but when he started to show signs of rebellion, she, too, became very cold with him.
When Peter sneaked into his parents’ bedroom to call Miss Devine for help, Carol caught him, and there was an extremely stark contrast between ‘this’ Carol and the Carol who once cared for her son. When Peter pushed her off the stairs, she warned him before dying not to remove the grandfather clock that was hiding the way to the dungeon. She was the one who fed Sarah, and even though she didn’t want her to live upstairs, she didn’t kill her. It’s not revealed, but perhaps she had made a deal with Mark not to kill Sarah; after all, she was their daughter. Somewhere, the motherly instinct was there in her, but it was Mark who ran the show.
Mark was the head of the house. He didn’t want the world to know about the abomination that was Sarah, which is why he decided to cage her in the dungeon. She waited 12 years to let Peter grow up, and then she started to tell him the truth about Mark and Carol. It was Mark who killed the famous girl, who everybody thought had mysteriously disappeared on Halloween many years ago. That girl must have seen Sarah in the dungeon or heard her cries when she came to visit Mark’s house for trick-or-treating. Mark killed her and buried her in the garden. Mark is a brutal character, and he has his mask of humanity on when he meets someone. When Miss Devine came to the house to meet Peter, Mark’s grin gave off the impression that everything was fine in the house. But it is evident that he could have killed Miss Devine if she had figured out that he was traumatizing Peter by keeping him in the dark and dingy basement.
The only character filled with warmth and comfort in Cobweb is Peter’s teacher, Miss Devine. She was the first to notice that Peter was indeed in trouble when he drew a terrifying drawing of himself lying in bed and asking for help. Peter was just reiterating what he had heard Sarah whisper, but he was indeed in trouble. It is only because of Miss Devine’s caring nature that Peter survived. She was rebuked twice, once by Carol and once by the school’s principal, for being overly concerned with one child. Even then, she persisted. She got her confirmation that Peter needed her help when he managed to contact her after calling her number, which she had tactfully written on his math test paper. She could have just continued to live her own life, but she cared enough to give Peter a chance to talk to her, as she understood that Carol or Mark would never allow that to happen. Nobody suspected that she would leave her number in that manner, but that proved to be a lifesaver. When Sarah was wreaking havoc in the house, Miss Devine arrived and fought to save Peter.
In the end, when Sarah whispered in the made-up voice that would melt the heart of any brother, Miss Devine held his hand, and that is when Peter realized that he was not evil like Sarah, and he wasn’t doing any wrong by leaving her locked in the dungeon. In all likelihood, Miss Devine will adopt Peter and help him leave behind the fear that Sarah is going to come back again.