Spider
2 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
the only thing worse than losing your mind is finding it Cronenberg is an expert at exploring the dark recesses of the human mind, so he seems an obvious choice to direct this quietly creepy drama about schizophrenia. But the film is just a bit too artificial to really work. Spider (Fiennes) is a man with serious mental problems; he's just been released from a hospital and is learning to live in an East London boarding house, but his old paranoia keeps coming back in the form of childhood memories. He vividly recalls his younger self (Hall) watching as his mother (Richardson) is brutally murdered by his father (Byrne) and replaced with a blowsy hooker (Richardson again). But are his memories accurate? Was he losing touch with reality even then?

The script is superb, grappling with serious issues with real insight and tenderness, drawing us into the story without ever preaching (indeed, there's hardly any dialog at all!). And Cronenberg directs it beautifully, letting us fall straight into Spider's mind. His approach to flashbacks is fiercely clever and very eerie, playing on the blurring of the imagined, perceived and actual past. Frustratingly, there are two things that keep snapping us out of the "reality" of the story. First, the production design is erratic and overdone; not only does it muddle the period, but every set looks like it was slapped with a fresh coat of drab paint just before the cameras started rolling--artificially dilapidated, with quirky furniture and costumes only a film crew would put together. Admittedly, this adds to the general unsettled atmosphere, but it also keeps us at arm's length. And the same can be said of Fiennes' performance, which is detailed and deeply committed, but it's also Acting! with a capital A and an exclamation point, never a real man who's deeply disturbed. The rest of the cast fares better; Richardson is particularly good. And while the film has disturbing, scary, involving and ultimately deeply sad moments, it never really goes anywhere. Frustrating indeed.

cert 15 adult themes and situations, language, violence 9.Dec.02

dir David Cronenberg
scr Patrick McGrath
with Ralph Fiennes, Bradley Hall, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynne Redgrave, John Neville, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig, Cliff Saunders, Tara Ellis, Sara Stockbridge, Arthur Whybrow
release UK 3.Jan.03; US 28.Feb.03
Capitol
02/Canada 1h39

Clearly off his rocker. Spider (Fiennes) weaves a tangled web in his room...

richardson byrne redgrave
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R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... the only thing worse than losing your mind is finding it "From the opening credits, the church hymn, the Rorschach prints and the measured and precise pacing of them, we are entering a world of a severely disengaged man, who has had the spectre of schizophrenia as his constant companion. The mumblings and rememberances of Dennis Clegg (Fiennes) combine to make for a journey down Memory Lane that is unlike any that rational, thinking people would care to take. Fiennes spends the length of the film attempting to piece together bits and pieces of his childhood that may or may not have happened. The prize in this herculanean effort is not so much to discover the unseemly goings on of his father, but rather seeking a discourse into the inner workings of Clegg's mind. This crumbling vestige of a man has been finely honed and not once did I think that I was watching a 'performance' but rather as true a representation of a schizophrenic as one is able to command. Spider is not an easy film to watch, but then seeing madness never is. This film is not entertainment per se; rather, it is eye opening and thought provoking. It's a step on the edge of the abyss and the eventual and catastrophic conclusion that must become Spider's reality. It is minimalist and daring and I can't say strongly enough how much this ensemble cast has brought forth for our inspection." --Mary F Sibley, Washington DC 28.Feb.03
2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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