As director David Cronenberg steered himself towards projects set in the gloomy, destitute plains of England, it seemed that the earlier films from this era had trouble letting go of the shlock of his former career. In turn, Spider, starring Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson, feels like Cronenberg toiling between mature, bleak expressions and an inability to bury the love he has for the gory horrors of his glory days. It’s an interesting mixture, one that falters from time to time in some unexpectedly bland moments. But Cronenberg’s style and confidence behind the camera make up for the occasional tedium throughout, with Spider setting off a new range of stylish choices for Cronenberg.
Following the tormented life of the titular Spider as he finds himself in a halfway house, Spider has an interesting premise but fails to capitalise on its more ubiquitous storytelling moments. The tormented walls of the halfway house and its equally terrified inhabitants provide minimal use in the way we build-up to the reasonings behind Spider’s placement. Fiennes’ leading performance is solid, and he plays well into the more sophisticated aspects of Cronenberg’s direction and the meanings behind it. The spider on the wall, observing and re-living the past as if it were unravelling once more, it provides a necessary hook for audience members, but never goes further in expanding on the intricacies of Fiennes’ role.
It’s nice to see that Cronenberg still manages to lace some rather uncomfortable moments within a film that is riddled with error. Pacing that drags itself out until a bombastic finale, supporting characters that come and go without any real rhyme or reason and no scene that provides itself as a stand-out moment of either the director’s filmography or as an interesting element of the film. Some moments feel like Spider should culminate his journey into the recesses of his mind with a more formidable, culpable moment, but that scene never appears. Instead, the ending, whilst a certainly fitting one for this collection of characters, is rather confused and does miss the mark somewhat.
Although not his finest work, it’s nice to see that Spider can be utilised as a tool to appreciate Cronenberg’s stylization. A dreary observation on a flatlining depiction of generic mental illness makes for a rather sour leading character, but carried by the tremendous efforts of Ralph Fiennes, Spider does hold merits within it. There are times when this piece doesn’t feel like a Cronenberg effort, where the grim grey tones collide with the underwhelming story, the lack of gore or the usual horror tones. Instead, we find ourselves in the midst of a thriller, with its director looking to re-invent his patented style. An interesting watch for that alone, but there’s much more to be desired here.