A review of “Spider” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: R for violence, intense situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes



An inexorably slow start crescendos to a fevered climax in David Cronenberg’s sinister ode to the perils of mental illness.

“Spider” is the just latest in a long list of Cronenberg’s onscreen nightmares (“Dead Ringers”, “eXistenZ”, “The Fly”, etc.).  An eponymous schizophrenic by the name of Spider (Ralph Fiennes) is prematurely discharged from a local mental institution and left to roam the streets of London’s East End.  Spider seems to exist in the shadowy recesses of an acute trauma – a trauma that has rendered him a bumbling, jabbering fool.

While Spider endures the plausible realities of the here and now – involving a suspicious landlady (Lynn Redgrave) and the oddball tenants of a seedy halfway house – a significant portion of his attentions are mired in the horrific memories of his troubled adolescence.  Perpetually confusing past and present, Spider relives dark dreams of his drunkard father (Gabriel Byrne) and his long-suffering mother (Miranda Richardson), who may have been murdered in order to offer a more permanent home to Dad’s low-rent squeeze Yvonne (Richardson again).

Fiennes delivers the performance of a lifetime as the potentially deranged victim-of-life for whom time is subliminally polarized. Richardson knocks one out of the park with a masterful double-take that flawlessly utilizes her infinite talents.

Although Cronenberg delivers Spider’s isolation and confusion with skillful restraint, his incessant allusions to allegorical and tangible webs are exasperatingly cold and disconcerting.   Pacing is a baffling blend of slack and energetically strumming – lending a fits-and- starts motion to a complex narrative. Bottom line, this is Cronenberg doing what he does best - disturbing, challenging, commendable work.