Like a rucksack of unblemished potatoes, from the outset there’s nothing very appealing about David Cronenberg’s latest “Spider.” Look a little closer and you might find otherwise – but even that’s like applauding a non-specific potato for having an atypical larva on its facade. The mildly compelling worm would be a great performance from Ralph Fiennes; the rest of the bag’s contents would be whatever’s left over of the film after that.
A sluggish, meekly distressing film, “Spider” stars Fiennes as the disturbed Dennis/Spider, an incoherent mess of a man released from a mental institution to a boarding house in his old neighborhood. As he spots the places of his past, he starts to lose grip on reality – constantly having flashbacks – and even confusing his new landlady as the woman who replaced his mother.
David Cronenberg succeeds by serving up a cold, callous depiction of life unkind. Everything from production designer Andrew Sander’s backdrop pat – tanks, terraced streets, allotments, and canals – looks the part, and Howard Shore provides a disheartening, slightly disorienting score.
Ralph Fiennes – though a little hard to understand for the most part of the film – is immerse as Dennis. It’s yet another stellar performance from the Thespian that is sure not to go unnoticed. Miranda Richardson, in dual roles, also provides cumbersome support – as does the unyielding Gabriel Byrne as the baleful father.
But as good as the performances are, and as wonderful as the production design may be, “Spider” is a mere shadow of Cronenberg’s past movies. It seems the best of Cronenberg is behind him – and now he’s left to salvage whatever’s left of his once-promising career with tales of indifference, no matter how entertaining, or how dull they may be for viewers. Unfortunately Cronenberg’s unobtrusive direction and dawdling pace will only leave most viewers looking for their caffeine hit coming end credits – with only a mere memory of a good performance or two. It’s definitely one for fans of the illustrious director and no one else.