Film review

Spider

DIRECTED BY David Cronenberg

STARRING Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave

Opens January 3, Cert 15, 99 mins

Over the years, with films like Rabid, Videodrome, Crash and eXistenZ, we've come to expect eerie, special-effects-laden, futuristic horror fare from David Cronenberg. His latest is a sinister but understated study of a schizophrenic (Ralph Fiennes) known only by his childhood nickname of Spider. The film opens in the 1980s with Spider checking into a grim halfway house in a run-down area of east London after 20 years in psychiatric care. Under the rule of Mrs Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), it seems as though Spider's soon to be integrated back into society. But then he starts exploring the local streets where he grew up, and his past comes back to haunt him.

Cronenberg uses flashback to explain how Spider came to be incarcerated. Ten-year-old actor Bradley Hall plays the acutely sensitive young Spider, Gabriel Byrne his boozy father and Miranda Richardson both his mother and his father's prostitute mistress Yvonne. Through these flashbacks, Spider leads us to believe that an horrific event in his childhood triggered his first breakdown. Or is this the complex, fantastical mind of the schizophrenic at work?

Adapted from Patrick McGrath's novel, Cronenberg's film takes us inside Spider's mind, shows us the world through his eyes. Ralph Fiennes, who spends the film mumbling to himself, writing unintelligible scribblings in a notebook and hallucinating macabre scenes, is nothing short of extraordinary. He puts Russell Crowe's turn in Beautiful Mind to shame. And his performance is completely naturalistic: a surprise, since we expect special effects galore from a Cronenberg film. But the only special effects in this film are the thoughts that pass through Spider's mind. Through his eyes, something as banal as a gas tower becomes an object of unimaginable terror. And this is the thread that connects all of Cronenberg's work: a fascination with the fine line between reality and fantasy.

Bleak, unsettling and very disturbing, this is another reality-bending classic from Canada's finest.


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