Cobweb is a twisted fairytale that keeps on twisting audience expectations – so the number one thing that attracted its director might be surprising to many viewers.
“When I first read the screenplay, I was struck by the fact it was a simple story at its core, and a simple story is the hardest thing to write”, Samuel Bodin explained to Zavvi. “It’s constantly surprising despite this simplicity – and that simplicity is what attracted me, as it gave me a chance to try something completely new with it.”
The Seth Rogen-produced horror stars Woody Norman as Peter, an eight-year-old who keeps hearing a strange noise from inside his bedroom wall – one that his parents (Antony Starr and Lizzy Caplan) insist is all in his imagination. The noise soon becomes a voice, and it warns him that his already sinister mother and father have a dark family secret hidden right under his nose, but that revelation is just the first of many rug-pulls the movie has in store.
Bodin recently wrote a piece for Variety outlining the dos and don’ts of directing a horror movie, with one of his key pointers being not to rely “on the same old scares”. With an archetypal set-up for a haunted house story, reminiscent of everything from classic fairytales to Stephen King fright fests, this was especially a challenge in making Cobweb, which the director acknowledges is very similar to many scary stories when taken at face value.
He explained: “I don’t try to be totally different – what I love about scary stories is that they reflect what the person telling them fears, and multiple people telling the same story can find a unique way to put their own spin on it. The one thing that I do to be different is to make it playful, and to find tenderness within the story.
“For me, I approach each shot like I’m next to a campfire telling a story, taking the time to build up that sense of fear. To get the audience to buy into that, you must make them believe this film could surprise them at any moment – it’s almost like I’m playing a game and daring them to come and play it with me.
“We’re all fundamentally scared by the same things, and that’s why the formula of a scary story has remained the same over time. The thing that makes a difference is the generosity a filmmaker can put into it, and the playfulness they have when meeting an audience’s expectations”.
The other challenge was finding a young actor who could anchor the whole movie and face up to the unnerving places this story leads them. Norman, who previously shared the screen with Joaquin Phoenix in the 2021 indie film C’mon C’mon, turned out to be perfect casting on this front – if you can go toe-to-toe with one of Hollywood’s intense leading men, doing a full-blown horror is a walk in the park.
“I was very lucky to work with him, as it was such a complicated shoot; the film was cast entirely over Zoom as we were shooting during the pandemic and add on to that the fact this is my first feature film, and first project in English. Working with a kid is just another obstacle on top of everything else!
“But he really deserved a medal, as he was the one who understood me the best on set, he has the number one quality any actor has which is the ability to listen. Plus, he loved being brought to scary places, which was great – we were lucky to find him.
“I work with young actors the way I work with any actors, but I collaborate with parents to make sure that it’s a safe, non-scary place for them. That means showing them storyboards of how each scene will play out, going into detail about every aspect of the story so there are no nasty surprises – they know every single scare in each scene, there are no traps along the way, and you must avoid keeping them in the dark all costs.
“But the one benefit of working with Woody was that he loves scary stories, he was reading H.P Lovecraft on set. There’s nothing that I could teach him that he didn’t already know!”
Bodin is a horror obsessive, but for him, there’s one movie that stands head and shoulders above the rest: The Shining. In other interviews, he’s stated that he watches it once at least every three months, calling it his number one influence.
But does Cobweb share the same DNA as Stanley Kubrick’s chilling take on the Stephen King classic? Bodin certainly hopes so, and he included several subtle nods to the cinematic masterpiece throughout.
“The movies share the same fundamental trope: a child discovering that his parents have been a danger for him all along. Woody has a talent for being able to express his fear of the world through just his eyes, which is something that you see in Danny in The Shining; a strong actor can bring all sorts to life in a simple expression.
“And the other way I aimed to consciously reference The Shining was through the architecture, and the way it’s framed – I wanted to make the house as hypnotic as the Overlook Hotel.”
The family home in Cobweb is certain to haunt your dreams in a similar way. Whatever you do, don’t go searching for its secrets…
Cobweb is in UK cinemas from Friday, 1st September.