Spider retains much of the spirit of eeriness present in the films of David Cronenberg (Camera, eXistenZ) minus much of the usual grotesque elements. However, this does not mean that it is any worse. If anything, Cronenberg stretches his talents to beyond what he usually does, to make one of the creepier movies of recent memory. He also gives Ralph Feinnes (Maid in Manhattan, Red Dragon) a wonderfully strange role. In recent roles, Feinnes is apparently trying to broaden his range. He played very different people in different genres for his last two films, but they were either over or under done. Feinnes goes minimalist here, internalizing just about everything in a memorable performance as Dennis, or as his mother calls him, 'Spider.'

To say that Spider has issues is an understatement. Spider follows Cleg, recently released from a mental institution, as he tries to pick up the pieces of his life and recollect the murder of his mother. Cronenberg weaves the past together with the present, as an adult Cleg observes his younger self (Bradley Hall) and the events leading up to the death of his mother (Miranda Richardson, The Hours, Get Carter). He lives in a small apartment with his mother and father (Gabriel Byrne, Ghost Ship, End of Days), who have a tenuous relationship. His father drinks too much, and the relationship is beginning to come to a breaking point. Young Spider watches helplessly as everything happens. His nickname comes from his fascination with spider-webs, which comes into play later in the film.

Patrick McGrath adapted the screenplay from his own novel. It may be a little obtuse for many viewers, because Cronenberg uses such languid pacing. Remember, the movie is seen through Spider's eyes, so everything that happens is a little warped. Again, it is Feinnes' performance that makes the movie. He looks genuinely uncomfortable with the world around him, seeming to shun and flinch from human contact, light, and pretty much everything else. He mumbles all his lines and scrawls illegibly into a small notebook. His movements are stilted, and he walks with tiny steps.

Feinnes' performance and the slow pace of the story serve to draw the viewer into Spider's world. It becomes more than seeing history from his warped perspective. Spider is trying hard to discern his delusions from reality, and because Cronenberg is moving from past to present, it is sometimes hard for the audience to figure out which is which. Along these lines, Richardson plays a number of roles, each one a little more psychotic than the last. Everything comes together to create a haunting portrait of a disturbed man. And by doing it without some of the trademark elements of his films makes it all the scarier.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R for sexuality, brief violence, and language.

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