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A brilliant and powerful psychological thriller about a deeply disturbed boy, Spider, who 'sees' his father brutally murder his mother and replace her with a prostitute. Convinced they plan to murder him next, Spider hatches an insane plan, which he carries through to tragic effect. Years later, his delusional account of his past begins to unravel and Spider spirals into fresh madness.

David Cronenberg
Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville, Bradley Hall
Writing Credits:
Patrick McGrath

The only thing worse than losing your mind... is finding it again.
Box Office:
Budget $10 million.
Opening weekend $189,350 on 27 screens.
Domestic gross $1.633 million.
Rated R for sexuality, brief violence and language.

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 7/29/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director David Cronenberg
• “In the Beginning: How Spider Came to Be” Featurette
• “Weaving the Web: The Making of Spider” Featurette
• “Caught in Spider’s Web” Featurette
• Theatrical Trailers
• Filmographies

Search Titles:

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Spider (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 14, 2003)

For those who’ve thought, “Hey, I’d sure like to see David Cronenberg do something a little light”, stay away from Spider. The director’s latest flick, Spider finds him as he takes on typically dark and disturbing subject matter once again.

Spider opens with images of a rail station, as we see “Spider” Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) as he disembarks from a train. Apparently recently let out of an asylum, the mentally disturbed man goes to a home for men with psychological impairments. Tended by the vaguely fascistic Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), Cleg keeps to himself and mumbles when he speaks, though he does seem to connect ever so slightly with a follow resident named Terrence (John Neville).

Spider doesn’t really focus on Spider’s present life, though. Instead, we get multiple flashbacks to his childhood as we see young Spider (Bradley Hall) and his parents (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson). Essentially the movie delves into the recesses of adult Spider’s mind via these memories. We watch as events play out among his parents and see how they affect him.

That synopsis is deliberately vague, for it’s very difficult to describe the story and not give away too much. Actually, it’s tough to tell the tale period, for there’s not a lot of strict plotting on display here. The film partially takes on Spider’s point of view, which makes matters even more complicated.

Amazingly, Cronenberg holds matters together remarkably well. To be sure, you’ll get confused at times during the movie, but I don’t think you’ll feel lost or adrift. Even when the story turns off the beaten path, it still makes some sort of weird sense. You might scratch your head, but you’ll remain involved and interested.

Cronenberg cuts between present and past easily and offers a simply stunning investigation of the mind of a schizophrenic. Cronenberg doesn’t resort to gimmicks or visual effects to communicate Spider’s status. Instead, he cuts simply among viewpoints and makes us feel his state of mind. The movie flows effortlessly and works marvelously in this way.

I also give credit to all involved because they didn’t make Spider yet another warm and fuzzy nutball in the Rain Man vein. As portrayed by Fiennes, Spider is extremely off-putting. He mumbles and shuffles through the film and comes across as less than likable. Admittedly, we don’t actually dislike the character, but he never wins over the audience. He’s a cold shell of a man, and I applaud Fiennes’ attempts to be true to the character without any schtick.

I wouldn’t call Spider a great movie, but it’s a very interesting and provocative one. It stuck with me well after it ended, and it avoided many of the clichés attached to the genre. Occasionally a little difficult to follow, the flick nonetheless remained coherent and it packed a nice punch for those willing to stick with it.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B+ / Bonus B

Spider appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture consistently looked very good and showed almost no real concerns.

Sharpness seemed solid. The movie always came across as crisp and detailed, and I noticed no issues connected to softness. While jagged edges and moiré effects seemed absent, haloes from edge enhancement occasionally created slight distractions. The film lacked any problems related to print flaws, as the image was nicely clean and free from defects.

Not surprisingly, the somber film featured a rather subdued palette. Dark tones and sickly greens dominated the flick. Despite the lack of vibrant hues, the colors remained solid and well developed, and they showed no concerns. Black levels were deep and tight, while low-light sequences appeared very clean and accurately defined. Spider lost points mainly due to the mildly annoying edge enhancement. Otherwise, this was a very positive transfer.

Given the movie’s quiet tone, I expected little from its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. However, the soundfield seemed surprisingly involving. To be sure, the forward spectrum dominated and focused mostly on general ambience. Howard Shore’s gentle score showed good stereo presence, and the mix always gave us a subtle but successful sense of place.

The track also sprang to life nicely when necessary. The opening sequence in the train station created a fine feeling of atmosphere in all five channels, and a rainstorm also appeared to submerge the listener in the environment. For the most part, the surrounds remained moderately supporting, but these and other scenes used them more actively. A surprising amount of split-surround material appeared, such as when a mental patient acted up; that audio came from the rear right speaker and served the track well.

Audio quality came across as perfectly acceptable. Speech remained natural and distinct at all times. Of course, Fiennes’ dialogue mostly seemed unintelligible, but that occurred due to his acting choice and not the recording. Music sounded vibrant and concise, while effects appeared realistic and clean. The mix featured very nice bass response during the occasional louder bits, and it always lacked distortion or other flaws. Spider wasn’t dynamic or broad enough to enter “A” territory, but it definitely mustered a solid “B+”.

This DVD release of Spider includes a decent set of supplements. We begin with an audio commentary from director David Cronenberg. He provides a very solid running, screen-specific discussion of the movie. Cronenberg occasionally discusses nuts and bolts topics like locations or the challenges related to the adaptation of the original novel. However, mostly he gets into issues connected to the film’s themes, interpretation and characters. Always insightful and never pedantic, Cronenberg adds depth to the proceedings but he avoids pitfalls as he doesn’t simply spell things out for us. Cronenberg fleshes out his thoughts without making matters obvious. It’s a very informative and thought-provoking commentary.

Next we get three separate featurettes. In the Beginning: How Spider Came to Be lasts eight minutes, eight seconds, and follows the film’s early path to the screen. We get comments from Cronenberg, writer Patrick McGrath, producer Catherine Bailey, and actor Miranda Richardson. The program discusses how Cronenberg signed onto the project, some elements of casting, and the severe budget problems experienced. Though brief, the show gives us a decent introduction to these topics, especially since Cronenberg remains an intriguing speaker.

Entitled Weaving the Web: The Making of Spider runs nine minutes, eight seconds and presents information from Cronenberg, producer Bailey, writer McGrath, and actors Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, and Ralph Fiennes. Cronenberg again dominates as we hear of topics like Spider’s conscious on-screen isolation from others, the director’s evasion of strict examination of schizophrenia, and the film’s layers among other topics. On the positive side, the issues examined appear intriguing and illuminating. However, almost all of them appear in Cronenberg’s commentary, so “Making” becomes much less useful for folks who already screened that chat. In addition, it appears to be a poorly titled program, for it tells us very little about the actual shooting of the flick. It’s still worth a look, especially if you skip the commentary, but it doesn’t add much to the package.

Finally, Caught in Spider’s Web: The Cast fills 12 minutes, 22 seconds as it examines the subject listed in the title. We find remarks from Cronenberg, Fiennes, Richardson and Byrne. Mostly they discuss the various approaches taken to the roles of the main characters as well as some nuts and bolts material from the set like the efforts of young Bradley Hall. The participants add some depth to the proceedings and give us a decent examination of the film’s acting.

The DVD ends with some old standards. Filmographies gives us entries for director Cronenberg, writer Patrick McGrath, and actors Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne and Lynn Redgrave. The trailers domain includes ads for Spider, Adaptation, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Devil’s Backbone.

If you enter Spider with the expectation of another shocking horror film from David Cronenberg, you’ll likely leave disappointed. If you enter Spider with the expectation of a rich and subtly depicted examination of a troubled man, you’ll probably exit satisfied. The DVD offers consistently solid picture and audio along with a small package of extras highlighted by a very good audio commentary. Spider seems too understated and unusual to work for a mass audience, but those with a taste for this sort of psychological examination should take to it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7333 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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