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Based on the novel by Patrick McGrath, David Cronenberg's psychological drama follows Dennis "Spider" Cleg (Ralph Fiennes), a mentally disturbed man who has just been released from an asylum. Upon taking up residence in a seedy London apartment building, the already introverted Spider begins to retreat further into his own thoughts, shutting out the caretaker, Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), and other eccentric tenants such as the wistful Terrence (John Neville). Within the confines of his mind, the anxious Spider revisits his childhood and literally watches his younger self (Bradley Hall) as he interacts with his doting mother (Miranda Richardson) and distant father (Gabriel Byrne). As his visions of the past continue, tragedy strikes and the dark history of Spider's life is slowly revealed.
A surprisingly subtle outing for Cronenberg, SPIDER carefully avoids the director's grotesque "body horror" aesthetic, common to films such as VIDEODROME and THE FLY. By leaving his signature bag of tricks behind, Cronenberg frees himself to tell one of the most compelling stories of his career. The film is anchored by Fiennes' impressive performance as the mumbling, reclusive, and strangely sympathetic title character. In the hands of a less experienced and dynamic actor, Spider's awkward presence could border on caricature, but Fiennes imbues the self-isolated man with dignity and depth. Aiding Fiennes and Cronenberg in this minimalist masterpiece are McGrath (who has carefully pared down his hallucinatory prose), composer Howard Shore, and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, along with actors Byrne, Hall, Redgrave, Neville, and, most notably, Richardson in a remarkable triple role.