"It's a terrible thing to lose your mind, or not to have a mind...."
Three years after the semi-disappointing EXISTENZ, David Cronenberg has bounced back in style with a highly atypical film. If I hadn't seen the credits, I couldn't have guessed that the master of techno-gore himself was behind the camera for this stylish psychological thriller, and what he achieves with SPIDER ought to silence quite a few of his lingering critics.Set in London, SPIDER relates the tale of a mental patient (Ralph Fiennes) who moves into a boarding home for recovering schizophrenics. There, he attempts to piece together the fragmented memories of his traumatic childhood.
The movie was adapted for the screen by Patrick McGrath, based on his novel; his script is refreshingly devoid of artificial Hollywood polish. Scenes tend to begin and end almost arbitrarily, and sometimes the point isn't immediately clear--but this is true to the disordered way the mentally ill think. And for a movie largely composed of flashbacks, the screenplay is far less confusing than it could have been.
Fiennes pulls off a wonderful performance as the titular Spider. He has virtually no real dialogue but spends most of his time muttering almost inaudibly, his body hunched over with the weight of some great psychic pain. Fiennes does remarkably well here, deftly avoiding the caricatured tics that a lesser actor might have brought to the role. Miranda Richardson is similarly excellent as the boisterous harlot who intrudes into young Spider's home. Also worth noting is Gabriel Byrne, playing Spider's earthy dad, who may or may not be hiding a dark secret from his son.
It is a compelling film for most of the way, but the ending feels somewhat abrupt. Perhaps this is a function of the meandering structure of the screenplay--the movie lacks strong narrative drive, so when the climax comes you may not even recognize it as such.A highly respectable effort for all involved, particularly for Cronenberg, who proves that he may have more in him than any of us believed.