Review: Dead on arrival, 'Cobweb' is only frightening for how familiar it is

That title, “Cobweb,” suggests only one, but why be stingy? This movie’s screenplay is strewn with them: dozens of dusty tendrils linking it back to older, better horror films, sometimes on a shot-by-shot basis.

It’s the week before Halloween, but sad-eyed Peter (“C’mon C’mon’s” Woody Norman) barely has the inclination to ricochet a ball off his bedroom wall, Jack Torrance-style. “This is an old house — there’s bound to be bumps in the night,” says his mom (Lizzy Caplan, slumming), offering a word of comfort to either her son or any stray critics who may have wandered in.

And surely as a boy carrying a decorated pumpkin will be pushed, face-first, to the ground by school bullies (“Halloween”), creepy whispers do start emanating from the beyond (“The Black Phone”), and you know that wall is eventually coming down, via ax blows filmed in whip-pans (“The Shining”). “Be careful,” Peter’s father (Antony Starr) offers, in ominous silhouette, “not everything is as sweet as it seems.”

Could it be that he’s hiding something? A quick glimpse at his suburb’s local publication, the Holdenfield Herald, locates it in the general vicinity of “Halloween’s” Haddonfield, so yes, probably. Home-invaders in creepy animal masks arrive on cue, enjoying their break from “The Strangers.”

In Hollywood’s current moment of strike paralysis, triggered in part by anxieties over the potential use of AI in the writer’s room, we may be being naive: Perhaps it’s already happening. Shockingly, the script for “Cobweb” made its way onto the esteemed Black List, which celebrates original unproduced work. Maybe that panel should watch some movies?

In defense of the credited writer, Chris Thomas Devlin, so much can happen between page and screen, including uninspired direction (by Samuel Bodin), twinkly insta-scoring (by Italian trip-hopper Drum & Lace) and generically murky cinematography (by Philip Lozano).

But regarding Devlin, I say produce the corpse. We already know you can kill what’s up on-screen, deadening us with your storytelling. And if “Cobweb” represents anyone’s vision of the future of horror, maybe we don’t deserve AI, either.

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