There's something intriguing about most of David Cronenberg's work.He was known originally as a cult horror film director in the '70s and '80s featuring typically graphic scenes from classics like Shivers, Rabid, Scanners and The Fly (his biggest hit). In the '90s and 00s Cronenberg moved away from horror and science fiction to make thrillers and then this highly unusual film, Spider. The film's title initially misleads as it has nothing to do with spiders or arachnophobia, but instead is a disturbing psychological drama seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic. The 'spider' is just a nickname for a lonely and strange little boy growing up in the 1950s, who seems to have a fascination with spider webs and cats cradles. He even has a hobby of adorning his bedroom with huge cat's cradles of string.
The film starts out with Spider (Ralph Fiennes) now an adult disembarking from a train, on his way to a boarding house in the East End of London, the area where he grew up. He has been reduced to a shambling wreck of a man who just stumbles around muttering apparent inaudible nonsense.The boarding house is a shabby, grim Dickensian place, whose residents are elderly men, who have fallen on hard times. It is there we see Spider trying to piece his life together and ascertain how he came to end up in such a state. He does this by keeping a notebook of events he recalls from his childhood and he continues to make entries as childhood memories return to haunt him. The film then backtracks to that period of time when we learn about Spider and his relationship with his Mum and Dad.
During the film we (or rather Spider) witness his father kill his mother after he has started an affair with a drunken London tart, brilliantly played by Miranda Richardson. For reasons that become clear, she also plays Spider's mother and shares the role of the housekeeper of the boarding house with Lynn Redgrave, but I don't want to give too much away. The question is did Spider's father actually murder his mother or did Spider imagine it all? The harsh truth is revealed towards the end of the film when the purpose of the story comes together.
The film deliberately moves at a slow pace reflecting Spider's personality, and it is certainly not for everyone. It's basically a study of schizophrenia and I think it's well portrayed. If you are expecting the earlier type of Cronenberg films, forget it. This is much more akin to an art-house type film, and you will need a certain amount of patience to get into it. Subtitles should be switched on, so that you can follow what Spider is mumbling about. I'd say the film needs more than one viewing to fully understand and appreciate what's going on. But nevertheless I found this Cronenberg film fascinating if depressing, and very different to what you would expect from him. It's also Ralph Fiennes finest acting role that I've seen so far, and arguably Cronenbergs greatest film. I revisit this film time and again, and get more out of it every time I do.