Britain seems to be a rather popular country for themoment in Hollywood: the latest big releases (HarryPotter and 007) are based in it, and you can’t tell methat Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth accents in The TwoTowers are completely alien to the West Country (andother parts) of the British Isles.
Indeed, DavidCronenberg, whose films include Videodrome, Crash,Existenz and The Fly, amongst others, has turned fromhis native Canada to London for his latest offering, Spider.
Spider tells the story of a man in his 40s nicknamedSpider, played by Ralph Fiennes, who is released froma mental asylum, and sent to a half-way house in theEast End of London, an institution run by the strictmaternal Mrs Wilkinson (played by an equally strictand maternal Lynn Redgrave, in fine form).
Once backin London, Spider starts to relive the memories of his childhood, and indoing so comes to terms with the way his life has lived itself. He seeshimself as a child again, reliving the death of his mother (played byMiranda Richardson) at the hands of his drunken father, who has committedthe crime so that his mistress, a prostitute named Yvonne, can join him as alive-in lover, and his subsequent revenge on the couple.
The film is not happy viewing, yet it would be unfairto avoid the film for this reason. Cronenberg has been directingquasi-horror films for many years, and Spider sees him as a master of hiscraft- in his own way he should be regarded as an equal to the polishedescapist modes of Speilberg and the pschycological torments of Hitchcock. Heknows exactly what he sets out to do, and delivers it accurately withoutdifficulty and with only a hint of pretention.
I had difficulty shaking off the feeling at the startof the film that Fiennes was a Hollywood actor tryingto revive his career by appearing as a mentallyunstable character in an independent film.
Yet hisperformance quickly dispelled any qualms I had abouthis casting, and throughout he gives a fantasticallyacute performance reminiscent of Billy Bob Thornton’sarresting portrayal of a similar character in SlingBlade. He is absolutely electrifying, and it is easyto make the comparison between the adult Spider, andSpider as a boy (played by 10-year-old newcomerBradley Hall, who portrays his character amazinglywell and whose character is possibly the backbone ofthe story that unfolds, a task which Hall convincingly shoulders).
The ensemble acting is that of seasoned professionals,all masters of their craft, and the story envelops theaudience as it unfolds. Howard Shore’s atmosphericsoundtrack completes what amounts to a terrificmovie.