Spider (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner06/01/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 99 mins

Well-made and superbly acted drama, but oddly lacking the directorial flair it needs to make it truly compelling.

Director David Cronenberg is no stranger to adaptations of other people’s novels, having already produced films of both William Burroughs’ supposedly unfilmable The Naked Lunch and J.G. Ballard’s Crash.

However, both those films provided him with the opportunity to explore themes that were present in his other films (body horror, bizarre sexual practices, strange mutations etc), whereas Spider – despite certain thematic resonances - is pretty much a straightforward adaptation, which, despite the frankly misleading title, is devoid of strange creatures of any kind.

Care In The Community

Ralph Fiennes plays Dennis ‘Spider’ Clegg (the name is the childhood nickname his mother gave him), who is released as an outpatient from a mental institution and moves into a sort of halfway house for lunatics. As he retraces his steps around the dingy East London neighbourhood of his childhood, he recalls his upbringing and the events that lead him to be institutionalised.

These involve his father (Gabriel Byrne, well-cast), who seemingly casts his mother aside in favour of a shrieking prostitute from the local boozer. However, the fact that Miranda Richardson plays both parts clues you in as to what’s really going on (though the fun of the film is in figuring that out for yourself).

The performances are excellent, with Fiennes in particular completely immersing himself into his role. Shuffling, twitching and constantly muttering his barely audible dialogue, it’s the sort of performance that if anyone were to describe it to you, you’d laugh because it sounds over-acted, but he’s quite remarkable – pay attention to his eyes, for example, and you’ll see genuine fear of the world around him.

Quantity And Quality

Richardson is equally brilliant – in fact, she’s so different in her two roles that you’ll occasionally find yourself questioning whether it isn’t, in fact, two separate actresses. There’s also good support from Lynne Redgrave as the landlady of the halfway house, who adds further confusion to Spider’s mind.

The look of the film is very impressive too, combining greyish brown colours, with some authentic location work that adds to the film. Perhaps the most memorable thing, however, are the ‘spider’s webs’ that Spider creates out of string on the ceiling, the source of his nickname. These start out as a childhood game, but are also indicative later of the state of his fractured mind, as well as performing a vital role in the plot.

In short, Spider is definitely worth seeing. It’s extremely well made and the performances are excellent, though fans of Cronenberg’s ‘early, nasty’ films may be a little disappointed.

Film Trailer

Spider (18)
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Content updated: 22/10/2017 12:42

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