on December 20, 2002 by Mark Keizer
There is not one exploding head or slimy creature to be found in David Cronenberg's "Spider," a defiantly slow but occasionally intriguing trip into the darkest recesses of the mind. However, while the artistry on display is certainly top-shelf (especially Ralph Fiennes' deeply internalized lead performance), the overall impression is too shoulder-shrugging to really resonate with audiences. Cronenberg fans will enjoy the beautifully sustained mood of grimness and dread, although they may miss the bizarre twists and grotesque turns of his earlier films.

   In the usually straightforward (for Cronenberg) narrative, Spider (Fiennes) is released to a London halfway house after years in a mental institution. A mumbling, paranoid ball of nerves, Spider is immediately suspicious of Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), the woman who runs the house, while fellow housemate Terrence (John Neville) is the only person he remotely communicates with. As Spider begins to explore his new surroundings, childhood memories return. He recalls these episodes word-for-word and is able (along with the audience) to see his younger self live these experiences. Spider's most potent memory is the loss of his loving mother (Miranda Richardson), who was murdered by his father Bill (Gabriel Byrne) after she caught him having sex with a prostitute named Yvonne (also Richardson). With Yvonne now comfortably moved into the family's East End home, Bill tries to pass her off as Spider's real mother. As Spider's thoughts get increasingly delusional, the audience slowly discovers what really happened to his mother. The final realization is the twist the whole movie hinges on and while it's certainly interesting, it's no more so than a good episode of "The Twilight Zone."

   Nobody does cold, detached austerity better than Cronenberg and his ability to stay tightly and elegantly controlled is truly amazing. However, the film wouldn't work if not for the performance of Fiennes. Looking like a pathetic street-person, Fiennes plays Spider as a tormented soul whose every thought needs to wend its way through the deep and complicated recesses of his contorted mind. Yet while "Spider" is an impressive and interesting exercise in mood with a great central performance, it remains a film that's easy to admire but hard to like. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne. Directed by David Cronenberg. Written by Patrick McGrath. Produced by David Cronenberg, Samuel Hadida and Catherine Bailey. No distributor yet. Drama. Rated R for sexuality, brief violence and language. Running time: 98 min

Tags: Starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne. Directed by David Cronenberg. Written by Patrick McGrath. Produced by David Cronenberg, Samuel Hadida, Catherine Bailey, Drama

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