David Cronenberg's heavy, frosty Oedipal parable is a damn good piece of filmmaking, even as it shines underneath a healthy layer of glass. From its opening tracking shot in a train station to its final image of a boy looking out a moving car through the glass window, Spider
works mostly as a visual tone poem lamenting the violent, sexual feelings an artist has for his mother, father, and himself.
Kafkaesque to the point of distraction, Patrick McGrath's sparse writing allows Cronenberg the opportunity to focus his camera on a virtually silent Ralph Fiennes, who is locked in an isolated world of his own doing -- a mirthless England where streets are empty and pubs are packed. The story follows a recently released mental patient (Fiennes) who revisits the town of his youth and painfully relives his traumatic tenth year, wherein his mother was murdered. Shot after shot, the film plunges us into Freudian hell: showing Fiennes lying fetally in amniotic bath water; Miranda Richardson (in a show-stopping performance) transforming from Madonna to whore in the blink of a camera shutter; and webs of twine spun ominously in a tiny room.
Rarely does Cronenberg fail to realize his vision with precise, beautiful compositions and efficient sound design, but alas, rarely does he emerge from his virtuoso coccoon to breathe life into his own creation. Ponderous, angst-filled, and only occasionally funny, Spider
mistakes the refusal to affirm life with the refusal to entertain. While we sit enraptured in the idea of a deranged loner scribbling his wicked fantasy life story into a notebook (as he creates it from his sordid imagination), we also sit waiting for Cronenberg to break free once and for all, and smile at his own bravura skills. Although The Fly
(the Canadian auteur's best movie to date) was just as predictable as Spider
, at least it had the organic drive necessary to turn an impressive film into a great one.