COBWEB (15, 88 mins) Horror/Thriller/Romance. Woody Norman, Lizzy Caplan, Antony Starr, Cleopatra Coleman, Luke Busey, Aleksandra Dragova. Director: Samuel Bodin.
In a key scene from director Samuel Bodin's suspenseful horror thriller, father and son carefully lay down rat poison in response to scratching behind the walls of the boy's bedroom and the tyke observes the pellets' heady aroma of cinnamon.
"Be careful. Not everything is as sweet as it seems," remarks his father.
This sage counsel has multiple applications in Cobweb, an unsettling tale of things that go bump in the night penned by Chris Thomas Devlin, which exploits universal fears of the dark and the creaks, sighs and groans that are part of the fabric of older houses.
Clocking in under 90 minutes, Bodin's picture unfolds in the week leading up to Halloween and delights in the witching season's iconography, including carved pumpkins and costumed trick or treaters.
Horror fans are well versed in the dangers of this time of year and after a sustained period of tension, Cobweb reveals what is actually making the nocturnal noises and leans heavily on special effects and splatter to cut the small ensemble cast down to the bare and bloodied bones.
Lead actor Woody Norman, who was deservedly Bafta nominated for his tour-de-force supporting performance in C'mon C'mon, finesses a repertoire of terrified, wide-eyed stares and silent shrieks at the blackened heart of the mystery.
He plays eight-year-old Peter, who is emotionally distant from secretive and protective parents Mark (Antony Starr) and Carol (Lizzy Caplan).
They are oblivious to the relentless bullying their son suffers at the hands of a classmate (Luke Busey).
The only people who care are supply teacher Miss Devine (Cleopatra Coleman), who is urged to stop meddling by the elementary school's concerned principal (Jay Rincon), and a girl called Sarah (Aleksandra Dragova), whose voice emanates through the walls.
Peter tries in vain to tell his parents about this guardian angel but they dismiss his concerns as an overly active imagination.
"This is an old house. There's bound to be bumps in the night," coos Carol.
After an argument with his parents about trick or treating, Peter learns an 11-year-old girl disappeared from the neighbourhood at Halloween and reflects tearfully on his insolence with a brief stay in the basement.
In his hour of need, Sarah is Peter's sole comfort and the boy vows to help his sympathetic phantom escape from her prison between the walls.
Cobweb is genuinely unnerving for an opening hour of inference and menace before screenwriter Devlin clarifies whether Peter's monsters are real or imagined.
Additional characters are hurriedly introduced for the third act to inflate the potential body count without any emotional investment on our behalf.
The dramatic set-up before the screaming begins is the treat. A conventional payoff is the trick we have seen many times before.