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Spider (15)



Review by: Simon Bell | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and crew interviews; Trailers.

WRETCHED. Grave. Extreme and concentrated. This is definitely the work of the world’s favourite miserablist and weirdo David Cronenberg: The man who gave us a murdering virtual-reality game in eXistenZ (1999), brain-damaging TV transmissions in Videodrome (1983) and identical twin gynaecological doctors who like a smidgen of scalpel with their obsessive sex in Dead Ringers (1988).

Here we have Dennis Clegg, a man in his thirties, just out of an institution where he’s been unsuccessfully treated for acute schizophrenia throughout his entire teens and adulthood.

Nicknamed Spider by his adoring (and adored-in-oedipal-proportion) mother, Dennis has harboured a long fixation with webs and all things stringy.

We don’t find out the root cause of his illness until the end, but we know he’s never recovered and it seems pretty obvious he’s slowly losing any remaining grip on reality altogether.

We watch as his life spent scrapping round the grim halfway house for the mentally ill where he lives becomes a neurotic journey back into the profound trauma of his childhood. (The grubby East End world he inhabits looks so dank you can smell the damp, mould and rot.)

Back there in them days, abusive Dad (Gabriel Byrne, Irish and grumpy as usual) spends most of his time chatting up prostitutes down the local over a pint before coming home to scare the missus (Miranda Richardson, in one of her best performances).

Ralph Fiennes gives a painstaking shot at the central role. He’s all nicotine-stained fingers and black, crooked teeth. Dressed in a coat you wouldn’t give a mangy dog, he’s as intense as you’d expect. But his incoherent mumbling and faltering stammers may seem a bit much for even his most ardent fan. Think Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot (1989) and you’ll have a fair idea of how scrutinising Fiennes here just reminds you of an actor being an actor: It’s too crafted and stagey.

Never mind, though, because Richardson - in the triple role of his mother, a prostitute and a landlady - is terrific. She’s directed well, of course, as are the sets. They conjure images that will live long in the mind whether you want them too or not.

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