Spider - Movie Review

by Vittorio Carli

"Spider" is a twisted thriller about a schizophrenic man who is prematurely released from an asylum. It is as suspenseful and atmospheric as any Hitchcock film

The film’s irresistible mood of dread and anxiety makes it reminiscent of Franz Kafka?s novels such as “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial.”

The film received tremendous advanced critical acclaim. In the recent "Sight and Sound" film critics's poll, Amy Taubin put it on her list of her favorite 10 films ever alongside "Vertigo" and "The Rules of the Game."

It was directed by David Cronenberg, the Canadian master of the macabre. Cronenberg's films tend to be highly psychological, intellectually ambitious, and highly perverse.

Most of his films are arty horror films, but this one is an art film with some horror elements

His previous films include "Dead Ringers," "Scanners," "The Fly," "Videodrome," “Existenz,” “Crash," and "Naked Lunch." He specializes in brainy and grotesque films, which combine sex and violence in very disturbing ways.

“Spider” is a little more restrained in its depictions of violence. But the film may still be too esoteric and demanding for many viewers.

Patrick McGrath based the mesmerizing screenplay on his recent gothic novel with the same name. The book and novel are both narrated in a stream of consciousness style following the mind of the disturbed main character.

McGrath is uniquely suited to tell this particular tale because his dad was a groundskeeper in a mental institution so he grew up in one.

The way the story was told reminded me of many early 20th century experimental novels such as William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.” Since the film is told from the perspective of a schizophrenic, we can never fully trust any of the images and we have to read between the lines.

The film stars the fine British actor, Ralph Fiennes. Since Fiennes made a splash in "The English Patient," he has done some great work in "The End of the Affair," "Sunshine,” and "Schindler’s List.”

After these important works, his recent role in “Red Dragon “was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed like it was beneath him.

Ralph Fiennes is totally convincing in the lead role as Spider. Fiennes allegedly visited a mental institution many times in order to learn how to better play the role of a psychotic man

Spider received his name because he is obsessed with spider web formations, which are continually shown in the film. The webs are obviously a symbol for his psychological entrapment.
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The film co-stars Miranda Richardson who was brilliant in "Damage.” She was also very good in "The Crying Game," "Enchanted April," and “Dance with a Stranger.”

Miranda Richardson is shockingly good in a dual role. She plays both Spider’s respectable mother and a vampy streetwalker that is having an affair with his father.

Apparently, his dad (well played by Gabriel Byrne) killed his mom, and replaced her with the hooker. Richardson plays the mom with an affluent accent and the hooker with a lower-class Cockney accent.

We are led to suspect that they are the same woman since they are both played by the same actress.

Vanessa Redgrave is fine as Mrs. Wilkinson, the woman who runs a half way house that Spider stays at. Spider suspects her of sinister deeds and he sometimes imagines that she is his dead mother.

"Spider" is far more sophisticated, original, and visionary than this year’s Oscar nominees for best picture. It may well turn out to be David Cronenberg's masterpiece.


Directed by David Cronenberg, rated R for sexuality, brief violence, and language, Running time: 98 minutes, opening at the Music Box on March 14

Star Rating ****

The cast

Ralph Fiennes Spider
Miranda Richardson Yvonne/Mrs. Cleg
Lynn Redgrave Mrs. Wilkenson
Gabriel Byrne Bill Cleg

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Photography by Vittorio Carli