Following his release from imprisonment, Spider (Fiennes) moves into a hostel for the homeless, run by the formidable Mrs. Wilkinson (Redgrave). Spider's schizophrenic state of mind can be traced to a (seemingly) turbulent childhood, and it's these formative years that lie at the core of what may be Cronenberg's most challenging film to date.
During the opening 15 minutes, it's hard to imagine such a story could be translated into a top position in the D.C. filmography but, as the film proceeds it's clear (even after a single viewing) that Cronenberg has emphatically stamped his own unique signature on proceedings, while using the streets of London as a gritty mirror image of Terence Davies' still life locales. While it's true that - like all Cronenberg films - Spider requires multiple screenings to fully appreciate, the first viewing should be an absolute joy to follow; especially when one has learned the rules regarding Spider's memories: real, distorted and imaginary, accompanied by the reading and writing of his journal.
Fiennes is simply phenomenal here, (re)viewing (and re-writing) his childhood experiences in a spookily flesh and blood state, while peering through the kitchen window; from the bar of his father's local or simply by standing and observing in the haunted rooms of his former abode - and all the while, largely bereft of intelligible dialogue. Fiennes nails down his character with looks, gestures and actions while, on the other side of the coin, Miranda Richardson is just as impressive, switching from loving mother to callous pub tart and even taking on a third guise near the end.
Award-worthy stuff, indeed, but if Spider is a film full of fine performances - Redgrave and newcomer Bradley Hall as young Spider should also take a bow - it's also brimming with striking imagery, nods and winks to past glories and a very English humour that beautifully complements this dark tale.
In short, it's a David Cronenberg film and if that used to mean something really special, things are on an even higher plane now.
Highly regarded Canadian writer/director who frequently combines intellectual concerns with genre subjects. Began directing in the late-70s with a series of gruesome but socially aware horror thrillers, such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. 1981's Scanners was Cronenberg's commercial breakthrough, and if the hallucinatory Videodrome was box office flop, it remains one of the finest films of his career. The sombre Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the hugely successful remake of The Fly followed.
The disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) was a watershed film, based for the first time entirely in reality and featuring a career-best performance from Jeremy Irons. The 1990s saw Cronenberg in uncompromising form, adapting a pair of "unfilmable" modern classics - Burrough's Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash - in typically idiosyncratic style. M. Butterfly was something of a misfire, but eXistenZ surprised many by being fast-moving and funny, while 2002's powerful Spider saw Cronenberg at his most art-house.