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Spider
2003 - R - 98 Mins.
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: David Cronenberg, Samuel Hadida, Catherine Bailey
Written By: Patrick McGrath
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, John Neville, Lynn Redgrave
Review by: David Trier
   
Not to be confused with the fluffy actioner Spider-Man, this is quite possibly the slowest movie I have ever seen. It almost beat In the Bedroom by a nose in the Slow (or Pacing-Challenged) Olympics, but has just enough thought provocation to keep you awake if you haven't been drinking.

When Dennis Clegg (Ralph Fiennes) moves from an asylum for the mentally ill to a halfway house, he's given some time to reflect (98 minutes to be precise). As he revisits his childhood, he witnesses the events that lead up to his father (Gabriel Byrne) murdering his mother (Miranda Richardson) while galavanting around with a cheap tart (also Miranda Richardson). But is that what really happened? Nicknamed "Spider" because of his hobby of building webs with string, we see why this mumbling little man had to be institutionalized.

First, let me remind everyone of director David Cronenberg's career and why I'll continue to root for his success even while he makes unwatchable movies. Cronenberg, in my opinion, is responsible for what I call organic horror. His earlier films, almost all of which are excellent, each brought a legitmacy to the horror genre because they involved nightmare scenarios that were grounded in our physical bodies and medical science. Shivers (a.k.a. They Came from Within) explores the hypocricy in socialized sexuality through a parasite that turns its victims into nymphomaniacal zombies. Scanners examines a birth defect that makes one overly telepathic and results in the breakdown of the ego (yes, I am laying this on a little thick). The Brood had the idea of psychological treatment resulting in physical transformation of the body. And, of course, his remake of The Fly examines the opposite problem of physical transformation resulting in psychological abomination.

Meanwhile, the rest of the horor industry was still bogged down with vampire comedies and haunted houses. But as he grew older, his obsession with human transformation and sexuality took a dramatic twist, somwetimes well, sometimes not. He did an excellent job with the creepy Dead Ringers and a decent job with M. Butterfly. But his cute yet mediocre Existenz did little to apologize for the absolutely embarrassing Crash (about people who, uh, crash cars and then "do it"). Still, the man has the talent to inspire and expectations were high for Spider.

Expectations were not met. But the film does have some things to offer. First and foremost, the brilliantly competent cast. Ralph Fiennes, although his character may not be as interesting as one might have hoped, delivers a consistent and believable Spider without ever really having any intelligible dialogue. But the real star of the show is Miranda Richardson whose dual roles as the loving mother and crass whore are specific, authentic and probably the best feature of the film. Gabriel Byrne can always be relied on and supporters Lynn Redgrave and John Neville are always good too (although the script doesn't give them much to do).

It's also worth mentioning that the film's interpretation of schizophrenia is appropriately dark and unimaginative. By unimaginative, I mean it doesn't try to make it look fun (which you have to admit A Beautiful Mind came close to doing). It presents the disease as one triggering a lack in perception of reality, wherein Spider is constantly trying to re-write his own story to medicate his cognitive dissonance. What happened to his mother? In the prison of his mind, this he will be forced to figure out for the rest of his life.

There's nothing wrong with stylized directing, but this is just absurd. Half the film goes like this - Spider scribbles on some paper. Spider goes outside. Spider sits on a bench. Spider goes back inside. Spider works on a jigsaw puzzle (which I recommend while watching the film). Spider remembers a conversation with his mother. Spider walks down the hall. Spider stops and mumbles. And so on and so forth... This is just not cool. There's no way a film this slow can be expected to hold my attention. What? Oh, the phone's ringing. Hold on... where was I? Oh yeah, how can I be expected to concentrate on this film when it makes 98 minutes seem like three full days? And 98 minutes is comparatively short, meaning the story must be so simple and so short itself, that scenes of the main character sitting on a bench doing NOTHING don't get cut.

There's a bit of a reveal in the end that makes for a few minutes of post-film conversation, but it's nothing jaw-dropping. The film isn't completely without merit, if for no other reason than Miranda Richardson's performance, but it's just not a very interesting story and, did I mention how slow it is? It's real slow.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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