cast: Ralph Fiennes, Lynn Redgrave, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, and John Neville

director: David Cronenberg

94 minutes (15) 2002 widescreen ratio 16:9
Redbus DVD Region 2 rental or retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon

Spider, a mumbling, hollow wreck of a man, has just been released from a secure mental hospital to a grim halfway house in the East End of London. Finding himself on the streets and canal paths of his youth, he begins to track down his old haunts – and to relive his past. Something terrible happened during his childhood, something involving his roguish, distant father, his beloved mother, and the brash, sensual woman who ultimately replaced her in the family. But is that what actually happened? As Spider begins to lose his grip on reality, a tragedy seems inevitable – or has the real tragedy happened already?

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Though Canadian sci-fi auteur Cronenberg may seem an odd choice for Patrick McGrath’s resolutely British story, his understanding of the dark places of the human psyche is exactly what’s required here. The grey, timeless backstreets, greasy spoon cafes and towering gasworks, lovingly photographed, form an atmospheric backdrop that changes subtly between past and present. Adrift in a world that despises or ignores him, Spider stumbles blindly towards understanding, clinging to his rituals and his scrawled journal as if they were the only things that were real.
The acting is impeccable throughout. Ralph Fiennes is tremendous in the title role, though he does take the mumbling to extremes, and vital information can sometimes get lost in the realism of his performance. Miranda Richardson is equally stunning in the dual role of loving mother and coarse, drunken good-time girl, and Gabriel Byrne gives solid support as the father, a simple working man way out of his depth. Lynn Redgrave, as the halfway house warden – a kind of B&B landlady from hell – also excels.
This powerful, slow-burning drama is a world away from the kind of flashy mental illness dramas that win Oscars, and is all the better for it. Not exactly an uplifting evening’s entertainment, but highly recommended for acting and direction alike.
DVD extras: interviews, trailers, and TV spots.