Plot: What’s it about?
In some movies, the less you know about the film’s premise, the better off you are. And without a doubt, Spider is a perfect example of the whole “less is more” approach. I could sit here and analyze this movie’s complex themes, but that would only serve to lessen and even ruin the entire point of the movie itself. I will tell you that the film starts off slowly and takes a while to build up steam, but stick it out and rest assured, it all comes together and the last half of Spider is a chain of events you won’t soon forget. Spider (Ralph Fiennes) is in his thirties, but he hasn’t experienced much of what life has to offer. Instead, he has spent his life inside of a mental institution, where he was treated for acute schizophrenia. His mind has infinite dark places, places that hold memories that have been long suppressed, perhaps with good reason. Although he hasn’t recovered, he is sent back out into the world to begin a new life for himself. His new residence is in a halfway house, where he is under the watch of Mrs. Ilkenson (Lynn Redgrave). As he revisits his old neighborhood however, his mind begins to awaken in those dark places and Spider is sent on a journey into his haunted past. Spider soon finds himself trapped in a place between the present and the past, but is it real, or all within his own mind?
I had immense interest in Spider right from the start, as I am a fan of director David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Dead Zone) and the premise seemed to have endless potential. Cronenberg’s more recent efforts have been solid, but they lacked his usual depth of darkness and didn’t have the kind of twisted presence of his earlier works. So when I saw the previews for Spider, I expected a return to form of sorts, the return of the darker side of Cronenberg. In the end, Spider turns out to be a well crafted and well executed motion picture, but it doesn’t have the kind of dark, twisted nature I had hoped to see. Yes, Cronenberg paints with dark colors here and some scenes do border on the bizarre, but the kind of sick, depraved content I expected wasn’t to be found. But don’t knock it before you give it a spin, as the movie is cool and features some excellent direction from Cronenberg, it simply isn’t as dark and weird as I expected. I also hoped for some visceral content, another element not to be uncovered in Spider. Even so, the tension is substantial and the execution of the plot is quite masterful at times. If nothing else, Ralph Fiennes’ performance is enough to warrant a rental, as he is in superb form in this picture. So while Spider isn’t as dark and visceral as I expected, it is still a well crafted movie and since Columbia’s disc is great in all respects, I am giving Spider a more than solid overall recommendation.
He must like to play weird, dark characters, as Ralph Fiennes has been on a string of these kind of roles in recent times. And since he is able to play such roles with immense success, perhaps he should make sure to sign on for more in the future. Fiennes is also able to bring a unique texture to each of the roles, unlike many actors, who would simply play the same character in each picture. No, Fiennes brings across a special kind of depth and personality that makes each role stand out and of course, that adds a lot to each movie. A lot of actors will find success in a certain kind of role, then milk that stereotype by playing it over and again, satisfied to rehash and recycle, since the paychecks continue. But Fiennes seems to want to challenge himself each time, to create a totally new and unique character. And it works to perfection, as Fiennes is Spider right from the start and we never doubt his performance even for a second. Then again, even when handed normal and even boring roles, Fiennes uncovers ways to make them more interesting. Other films with Fiennes include Strange Days, Red Dragon, The English Patient, Schindler’s List, The Good Thief, Maid in Manhattan, and The Avengers. The cast also includes Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, The Crying Game), Gabriel Byrne (The End of Violence, Smilla’s Sense of Snow), and Lynn Redgrave (The Happy Hooker, Shine).
Video: How does it look?
Spider is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This proves to be an excellent visual presentation, one that captures the film’s visuals to perfection. I had some doubts in this case, as Spider is a dark, dark movie in terms of visuals, but Columbia’s treatment here ensures all the elements look terrific. The image is a little soft at times, but this was true of the theatrical presentation also, so I see no reason to view this as a flaw. The darkness isn’t solid black here either, instead we have a wealth of dark hues, all of which look superb here. If you’re looking for a vivid color scheme, you’ll be let down by this movie’s visuals, but Spider’s color patterns have bee replicated very, very well here. Columbia can do some excellent visual treatments when they choose to and luckily, they were so inclined with Spider.
Audio: How does it sound?
A Dolby Digital 5.1 option is found here, but don’t expect the usual kind of surround presence here. A few scenes allow the surround channels to open up, but on the whole, this is a dialogue driven, low key audio experience. The music sounds excellent also, with ample presence and it hits the right tones, and always reaches the desired ends. The main focus is the dialogue however, crisp and always easy to understand, with no issues in the least to complain about. This might not be an explosive mix, but it presents the material in a natural form, which is what matters in this case. This disc also includes English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main supplement here is an audio commentary track, in which director David Cronenberg shares his insights. This is by no means the typical promotional session, as Cronenberg delves into the material and goes in depth with his comments. He shares some production stories and such as well, but he also talks about the film’s complex themes. This disc also includes three brief featurettes, some talent files, and the film’s theatrical trailer.