Internal madness is hypnotically externalized in David Cronenberg's Spider
, a disturbing portrait of schizophrenia. Adapted by Patrick McGrath from his celebrated novel
, this no-frills production begins when "Spider" Cleg (Ralph Fiennes, in a daring, nearly nonverbal role) returns to his childhood neighbourhood in London's dreary East End, where a traumatic event from his past percolates to the surface of his still-erratic consciousness.
Released from a mental institution and left to fend for himself, he pursues elusive memories while staying in a halfway house run by a stern matron (Lynn Redgrave), unable to distinguish between past, present, and psychological fabrication. The distorting influence of Spider's mind is directly reflected in Cronenberg's cunning visual strategy, presenting a shifting "reality" that's deliberately untrustworthy, until the veracity of nearly every scene is called into question. With an impressive dual-role performance by Miranda Richardson, Spider falls prey to its own lugubrious rhythms, but like the acclaimed 1995 indie film Clean, Shaven, it's a compelling glimpse of mental illness, seen from the inside out. --Jeff Shannon