Written by Patrick McGrath
Directed by David Cronenberg
Ralph Fiennes .... Spider
Miranda Richardson .... Yvonne/Mrs. Cleg
Gabriel Byrne .... Bill Cleg
Lynn Redgrave .... Mrs. Wilkinson
John Neville .... Terrence
Bradley Hall .... Boy Spider
The moment Spider steps off the train in the opening scene, it's obvious that there's something wrong with him. While the rest of the passengers are walking briskly to get on with their day, checking their watches to make sure they're not late, Spider stumbles slowly across the platform, mumbling incoherently to himself, with a sock full of his valuables stuffed securely into his underwear.
Spider has just been released from a mental institution and is on his way to his new home, a halfway house for former mental patients as they attempt to reconnect with society. Once he arrives, he meets Mrs. Wilkinson who runs the place and becomes acquainted with Terrence, a fellow boarder who carries himself with an almost dignified air. When we witness Spider going through such pains to hide his secret notebook in his room, we can't help wonder what's written inside.
Turns out it's a journal of sorts, and when Spider reads from it or writes in it we're thrown backwards through time in a clever method of childhood flashbacks. As Spider remembers it, his father Bill was unhappy in his marriage and eventually took up with a "tart" from the local pub. When his wife caught them together, Bill brained her with a shovel, buried her in the garden, and moved his mistress right in to take her place. Spider, already a disturbed young boy, slowly slides deeper into psychosis.
But...something here just doesn't add up.
I won't give away the ending here, but suffice it to say that fans of Identity and Memento may find this film of interest. It's brilliantly directed with a twist ending and Ralph Fiennes does a hell of a job in the title role. But while I thought this film was excellent, it has more than its fair share of detractors. Their negative reviews are usually based on the following statements (read in a whiny, nasal voice): "It moves too slow", "It wasn't scary," or "It didn't make any sense."
It wasn't slow, it was deliberately paced. It wasn't scary because it wasn't a horror movie, it was a psychological drama. And if it didn't make any sense to you, perhaps you should watch the ending again with both eyes open. Besides, this film is about insanity, a subject which Hollywood has tried--and failed--to capture a thousand times over. Perhaps this is the first time it's been done right.