review by Carrie Gorringe, 20 September 2002

27th Toronto International Film Festival

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 comprehensible.  You 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:



Directed by:
David Cronenberg

Ralph Fiennes
Miranda Richardson
Gabriel Byrne
Bradley Hall
Lynn Redgrave
John Neville
Gary Reineke
Philip Craig

Written by:
Patrick McGrath 
David Cronenberg

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







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