Spider is easily one of my favorite films from master filmmaker David Cronenberg, with other personal highlights on his wild and provocative resume including Videodrome, A History of Violence, Dead Ringers, Scanners, Eastern Promises, and The Fly. He’s made so many great films, almost all of them extremely memorable, but I think this is one of his sharpest and most deceptive works to date, a movie that’s hard to explain without spoiling, so if you don’t know too much about this one, I would suggest staying far away from anything that might give up it’s numerous secrets. The narrative centers on Dennis Cleg, aka “Spider,” played by Ralph Fiennes in a shattering performance that’s very hard to shake upon first viewing, a man who is recovering at a halfway house after being released from a mental institution after decades of treatment. He begins to attempt to make sense of his fractured life, striking up a friendship with another resident of the house, played by the great John Neville. It seems that Spider’s childhood was one filled with terror, as he was abused by his father, played by Gabriel Byrne, and lived through the murder of his mother, hauntingly played by Miranda Richardson. Themes of transference, emotional isolation, and mental duplicity are all at work, while Fiennes went all out in a performance that ranks as one of his absolute best.
The layered screenplay by Patrick McGrath, which was based on his novel, perfectly balances the real world with Spider’s remembrances, while adding a trippy “is-this-really-happening” element in certain spots. The appropriately dark, shadowy, and murky cinematography by Cronenberg’s regular director of photography Peter Suschitzky casts a gloomy pall over the entire film, that feels very much in line with psychologically complex story being told. Howard Shore’s creepy score and the tack-sharp editing by Ronald Sanders keeps you on edge at all times. Spider premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was released in 2002, and while it received extremely strong reviews from critics, it failed to catch on with audiences, as it was only released in a handful of theaters in select cities in America. Cronenberg won Best Director at the Genie Awards. Produced by the legendary Samuel Hadida (Domino, True Romance, Freeway, The Rules of Attraction, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and Good Night, and Good Luck).