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Overall Rating

Awesome: 21.43%
Worth A Look: 25%
Just Average35.71%
Pretty Crappy: 12.5%
Sucks: 5.36%

6 reviews, 20 user ratings

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by Brian McKay

"A descent into schizophrenia that doesn't quite go deep enough"
3 stars

SPIDER, the latest from David Cronenberg, is so surprisingly devoid of grue and the usual techno-terror trappings that it doesn't really feel like a Cronenberg film at all. While it's certainly a noteworthy change of pace, that doesn't spell "instant classic."

"Spider" is the nickname of Dennis Clegg (Ralph Fiennes), given to him by his mother as a boy because of his fascination with spiderwebs - including the one he has strung all about his room with a ball of twine. His mother (Miranda Richardson) is a quiet, loving woman who seems to be a calming force when Spider's dad is around. Brooding and seemingly volatile, Bill Clegg (Gabriel Byrne) is a plumber who would rather crawl the pubs and scope out tarts at night than hang around the house.

Decades later, Spider is released from the asylum where he has lived since childhood. He is allowed to stay at a halfway house for recently released patients, one located in the neighborhood where he grew up. While there, he must deal with the tyrannical director of the halfway house, a stern woman named Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave). He wanders about the old neighborhood, attempting to piece together his memories and re-assemble the past. For years, he has believed that his father killed his mother when she caught him cheating, and then "replaced" her with a blonde pub tart named Yvonne (also Miranda Richardson). But what if his memories are false?

Much of the story is told through flashbacks, with the adult Spider standing in the background as an observer. However, it soon becomes clear that not all of the flashbacks are "real", since he could not have possibly witnessed some of the events that he relives. He scrambles to try and figure out what is real and what isn't, like a man trying to assemble a puzzle with pieces from two separate boxes.

Fiennes does a decent turn as Spider. He wanders around, hunched over and introverted, like some shy or injured animal. He wears five shirts at a time, picks up various scraps of trash from the streets for his "collectibles" tin, and keeps a secret journal full of notes scribbled in a strange mix of characters that are almost hieroglyphic. Whether the obscure language is one he has learned or created is never known, but he refers back to the journal frequently. He barely speaks, and most of his lines are muttered and incoherent. He has the potential to be a fascinating character, but his psyche is never explored deeply enough. Is his condition a result of the trauma he experienced as a child, or is it the other way around? What can his "break" be attributed to, and when did it began? Ambiguity can be a good thing when you have enough information to draw a hypothesis from, but Spider leaves too many nagging questions and not enough insight into his character to work with. While I doubt the subdued approach of wandering around hunched over and muttering for 90 minutes is going to win him an Oscar, at least he doesn't go the alternate route and deliver an overblown performance.

Miranda Richardson does some of her best work in a dual role, juxtaposing the reserved wife and mother with the boisterous bar slut effortlessly. She even assumes the character of Mrs. Wilkinson when Spider begins to project her onto the real Mrs. Wilkinson, and accentuates the mannerisms established by Redgrave flawlessly. I would not be surprised to see some prestigious nominations for Richardson in the coming year.

Byrne and the supporting cast also turn in admirable performances, especially John Neville as a fellow patient at the halfway house. In fact, the performances are probably the strongest facet of the production. Likewise, Cronenberg's direction is some of his finer work, as he seamlessly inserts Fiennes into the flashback sequences. But beside the lack of real depth to Spider's character, the film also suffers from being bogged down by the weight of its own pacing. It takes too long to build interest, and is too quick to reach its resolution. While it would most likely be labeled as a "Psychological Drama", there's just not enough psychology or drama to make for a truly compelling film. I can respect a film that takes its time and demands patience, but Spider needed to lay out a bit more groundwork and not jump to such an obvious conclusion.

It's a noble effort on Cronenberg's part, and some strong performances render it worth seeing - once. Unfortunately, the film mumbles and shuffles along at the same maddening pace as its titular character, inspiring some sympathy but mostly aggravation.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6597&reviewer=258
originally posted: 02/26/03 02:20:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/07/10 little jerry John Neville's performance is one of the most poignant ever. 5 stars
2/23/07 dmitry fantastic...Cronenberg at his best 5 stars
11/19/06 Ionicera it stays with you 4 stars
11/07/05 K. Sear A little cry, even for Cronenberg. Still entertaining though. 4 stars
8/18/05 ES Lynch and Cronenberg must have gone to the same school for making crazy movies that suck 1 stars
9/23/04 Roxy Smith excellent 5 stars
7/29/04 Josh Standlee So unscary, it would pass as a made-for-TV movie on PAX! 1 stars
6/06/04 Ryan Clark Either you get it or you don't - to truly appreciate the film, listen to the commentary. 4 stars
5/10/04 The More You Know scatterbrained insomniacs worst nightmare 3 stars
2/23/04 Naturezrevenge Typically good cronenberg from the canadian Lynch. 4 stars
10/02/03 Mickey With A C Art or crap? CRAP 1 stars
8/21/03 Bernie Chabel Not easy to watch but oh so rewarding 5 stars
8/13/03 Jeannie Karlsen Loved Ralph Fiennes performance (as always), love Cronenberg films (as always) 5 stars
5/21/03 Elendil Very atmospheric,. Pity about the SPOILERS provided by E. Childress. Review ~= plot outline 4 stars
4/06/03 Byrneoholic I like the movie 4 stars
3/25/03 rue the whirl it's pretty crappy i guess 4 stars
3/10/03 thejames its ok i guess. 2 stars
3/05/03 Spy It isn't very good... 3 stars
1/13/03 marzio arigoni@rtsi.ch great director, great actors Fiennes Richardson and Byrne, great film 5 stars
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  28-Feb-2003 (R)



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