review by Carrie Gorringe, 20 September 2002
27th Toronto International Film
Concealment is Everything
David Cronenberg used to make
movies with creepy appendages coming out of or forcing their way
into people's bodies. In
his new film, the ghoulish Spider, (the recipient of this
year's Toronto-City Award for Best Canadian Feature Film),
Cronenberg turns his interests toward the methodology of
psychological damage and how the evil can sink into the mind from
without under overpowering circumstances. We first see the eponymous
hero, Dennis "Spider" Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) with his
gimpish gait and his perpetual cringing with fear, shuffling off to
a halfway house after his release from a public asylum in London.
The halfway house, crumbling and mean in its appearance, is
run by the malevolent Mrs. Wilkinson (a chilling performance by Lynn
Redgrave), who takes delight in informing her boarders that one
wrong move will mean their return to the asylum (as if anything
could be worse than the thin gruel and hospital-green surroundings
she offers up). It is
also located in Spider's old neighborhood, and he is reluctantly
drawn to his childhood home, conjuring up unwanted memories of his
brutal, alcoholic father, Bill (Gabriel Byrne), the vicious murder
of his mother (Miranda Richardson, giving one of her triple-threat
performances in the film), and the drastic, desperate act that has
led him to the present.
The film's narrative gives the film
its strength: concealment is
everything. When Spider
first gets off the train, the audience has no idea who this
shuffling, pathetic individual is. His life is constructed in
flashbacks, gradually revealing what seems the inevitable course of
Spider's life, and that is the most terrifying aspect of the film:
in retrospect, Spider has taken the only real course of
action available to him – his life choices have always been part
of a closed-set. The state is willing to offer so-called
"help" for his problem only half-heartedly and when it is
too late to have any kind of positive effect upon his life.
He is one of the damned, rejected by everyone.
Fiennes' performance makes the inevitable seem even more
horrible and pathetic. Cronenberg,
typically, portrays all of the goings-on in a detached and merciless
way, adding to the overwhelming sense of mental claustrophobia and
hopelessness (there are lots of close-ups, tilted angles and harsh,
yet gloomy, lighting present).
It is psychological hell transformed into the all-too-easily
want to look elsewhere, but are transfixed.
Spider is an emotionally-draining film, but one which
demonstrates Cronenberg's ability to grow as a director through the
examination of real and everyday monstrosities. As the tagline goes:
"The only thing worse than losing your mind…is finding
it again". And
then losing it.
Toronto International Film Festival Coverage:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult