A Study in Boredom: Spider

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. It has been absolutely murder wading through these last few films, and I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it in the slightest. Spider is the last of the “second shit period”, and thank the lord this is all out of the way. I’ve waded through drug trip nightmares in Naked Lunch, imbecilic transvestite-shagging weirdos in M. Butterfly, a veritable torrent of filth in Crash and the utter shitness of Existenz, yet this is the only film of this fallow period that I would describe as boring.

And boy is it boring.

Spider is based on a reasonably successful novel about mental illness. I imagine that this was nightmarish to adapt, because it seems that vast tranches of it would involve the main character sitting at a desk writing, trying to decipher his own foggy memories. It was, for some reason that completely escapes me, billed as a horror film. It’s nothing of the sort. If I’m being generous, I would say that it is a hybrid of genres, an amalgamation of kitchen sink working class misery, intense psychological drama and social commentary. The fact that none of these genres work properly here and therefore the film can never transcend its pompous and self-regarding cleverness. This is a bad film.

Dennis “Spider” Cleg is a recently released (on care in the community) nutjob. He moves back “home” to a really grubby working class tenement, ruled with an iron rod by Lynn Redgrave’s tyrannical landlady (eventually supplemented in Spider’s shattered mind by his archetype of all evil- Miranda Richardson’s tart/ mother).  Spider, however, is flagrantly unequipped to deal with the real world and his confused past gradually begins to overwrite his present as we’re “treated” (ha!) to a “Spider’s eye view” of the events leading up to the tragedy that defined his life. What this actually consists of, is a staggeringly boring working class pastiche, briefly enlivened by a bit of grubby sex and murder, where adult Spider sits in the corner watching and partially mumbling the narration to the action on screen.

This film was clearly a labour of love for all involved. Fiennes found the property and shopped it around many different directors before Cronenberg agreed to do it, and once involved in the project, the Canadian agreed to postpone his fee. Fiennes and Richardson both also worked effectively for free. Personally, I happen to think that everyone involved in this was overpaid, and if it had cost me anything to see it, then I’d have been livid. Having said that, Fiennes is really, really good as Spider. It’s a performance of twitchy intensity, but it’s so intense and so inward looking that I really failed to warm to the character, and furthermore it’s a performance that actually alienated me from proceedings. Richardson is good as the tart/ archetype, and probably has the most fun in the film, and Gabriel Byrne is surly and unpleasant as Spider’s father.


The problem with this film, as I’ve briefly touched on, is that it is both pompous and boring. The novel was, I suspect, intended as some kind of social commentary on the Tory’s disastrous Care in the Community programme. As such, we’re presented here with a clearly mentally ill person, who is obviously a danger to those around him, living in facilities flagrantly not designed for him. There’s a grubby and inadequate atmosphere to this film, and there is nothing resembling levity that could momentarily supply some actual enjoyment to proceedings. It’s just so relentlessly grim and bleak and after a while I just couldn’t take it any more, and had to turn it off for a break.

Secondly, the vast majority of the “action” takes place in Spider’s memory. From early on, it’s transparently obvious that he’s badly deluded and grossly paranoid. His memories are also, obviously, false. There is no way in hell that he could possibly have been present when his father fixes Richardson’s plumbing, or the grubby sex scenes and whatnot. As the tart supplants the mother in his mind (both are played by Richardson, so it’s a tad confusing), the only reasonable explanation that the viewer is left with is that the kid was every bit as nutty as the adult that wears 5 shirts.


Finally, the end of this attempts to be tragic, but misses the mark by so far. It’s meant to be this big curtain tearing back moment, when the audience is finally let in to the fact that the young Spider was nuts. However, by the time it comes it’s obvious both what’s going to happen and what has happened in reality. This, therefore, creates a crushing anticlimax, and in a film as boring as this one, then it’s never going to be more than an enormous failure.

Nevertheless, this is another obviously well made, but eventually terrible film. Cronenberg artfully draws the imaginary working class London, and the performances are all really good (even if off-putting). The problem, I suspect, is that this is another film where his clinical style doesn’t fit the material. Spider is simply not effective as a psychological thriller, and as a direct result of this, we’re left with a dull and tedious treatise on the flamingly obvious.


Overall, I do not recommend this film. I do think it’s marginally better than Existenz, but so is being kicked in the bollocks by an ostrich, on the grounds that Existenz is entirely worthless and Spider is almost entirely worthless. Luckily, this is the last of these “difficult” films that I have to wade through, and I’ve got A History of Violence next. I give Spider 1 Chang, purely for the performances.

Until next time,


The order so far:

  • Dead Ringers (4 Changs)
  • The Fly (4 Changs)
  • Videodrome (4 Changs)
  • Scanners (3.5 Changs)
  • The Brood (3 Changs)
  • The Dead Zone (3 Changs)
  • Shivers (2 Changs)
  • Crash (2 Changs)
  • M. Butterfly (1.5 Changs)
  • Naked Lunch (1.5 Changs)
  • Rabid (1 Chang)
  • Spider (1 Chang)
  • Existenz (1 Chang)
  • Fast Company (Orangutan of Doom)
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    About Jarv

    Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

    55 responses to “A Study in Boredom: Spider”

    1. LB says :

      Christ-the review gave me a massive headache.

      You make it sound like the movie is insufferable.

      I’m just saying-I’m going to tweet this review.

    2. Franklin Thomas Marmoset says :

      I fell asleep both times I tried to watch this, once when it came out on DVD and once last year when it was Film 4. I didn’t even get far enough in to see any grubby sex scenes, which might at least have perked me up a bit.

      From what I saw, Fiennes was good, but it was so slow and dreary that my brain rebelled against it by putting me into a short coma.

    3. Jarv says :

      I’ve just worked out what I should have called this: Cronenberg does Oscar Bait.

    4. kloipy says :

      glad I didn’t waste my time on this movie. But looking forward to your next 2 reviews Jarv. You’re almost there man! We are pulling for you

      • Jarv says :

        I know.

        I’ve nearly finished a fucking huge series.

        Actually, if I thought properly about it, I wouldn’t have taken this on. Rabid, Fast Company, NAked Lunch, Crash, M. Butterfly, Existenz and Spider have all been horrible experiences.

        • kloipy says :

          what’s funny is just looking over the reviews, we got 8 good ones (that is if you like HOV and Eastern) and 8 fair to shit ones. I’ll be the first to admit that Crones has some weak shit and I’m a fan

        • Jarv says :

          I agree.

          When I started this, I hadn’t seen Rabid or Fast Company, knew Shivers was a bit iffy, but also knew The Brood was really good. I completely forgot about the 90’s run.

          In hindsight, if I’d known how bad M. Butterfly, Fast Company, Spider were (I knew about Crash, Existenz, and Naked Lunch) then I wouldn’t have done this.

      • just pillow talk says :

        Yeah, what Kloipy said. I’m so glad I haven’t seen 80% of his shit.

        • kloipy says :

          Pillow, the only ones I’d highly reccomend are
          The Fly
          Dead Ringers
          Dead Zone
          Eastern Promises

        • Jarv says :

          Pillows- the top 6 of my list are all fucking good films. Seriously good.

          Shivers and Crash are, erm, dicey.

          The bottom 6 are all varying degrees of bad.

          Spider, Existenz and Fast Company are awful.

        • just pillow talk says :

          I haven’t seen videodrome and dead ringers outta your list there Kloipy. I love History of Violence too, The Fly is very solid, Eastern Promises is quite good, and Dead Zone is really quite good too.

        • Jarv says :

          Dead Ringers is, I reckon, Cronenberg’s best film.

          Fucking masterpiece, just don’t watch it with Mrs. Pillows.

          Women tend to not like it.

        • just pillow talk says :

          Been in the queue after your initial review.

    5. Jarv says :

      It is funny, but when I watched this and Existenz, I was convinced this was worse, but when I ordered my thoughts for the review, it was flaming obvious that this is marginally better than Existenz.

      Neither are good.

    6. Echo the Bunnyman says :

      Spider is pretty lame, but I tend to think its not as bas Crash or Existenz (watched it last week again, due to your review and I found it terrible) . I forgot about the ‘it was a dream’ ending. Spider was Cronenberg trying to make a movie when he didn’t have a real story to to tell . I feel like he assembled the peices and actors before he decided what kind of movie to make. This one is way dull. I’m still of the opinion that Id rather watch it than Crash, of for no other reason than at then end I would likely be alseep and not feeling like my skin was cralwing.

    7. Echo the Bunnyman says :

      also, I know this was based off a novel, so I’m not saying he really didnt have a script or story to tell, just that the final result feels that way. It’s like you said, he’s just bouncing off the surface of the novel.

      Good review btw.

      • Jarv says :


        It’s just such a massively dull film that it’s hard to give a good review of.

        I was tempted to go with “Dull as Dogshit: Avoid” as the entire thing,

    8. Droid says :

      I haven’t seen thisTM

      I do like Fiennes though. That said, nothing about this interests me.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s not worth the effort of finding it. As Frank said, even on TV it would put me to sleep.

      • Droid says :

        I think I had the opportunity to watch it (and I think I might have tried because I seem to remember Miranda Richardson and Ralph Fiennes in a film together) years ago. But I couldn’t say for sure.

        • koutchboom says :

          Yeah this movie is stupid. When I saw this I figured Cronenberg was kaput….and he hasn’t done anything since to prove otherwise. His pilot HBO episodes were fine and all but sort of sucked that they weren’t picked up for a complete series.

        • Jarv says :

          Pilot HBO Episodes?

          I presume you mean AHOV and Eastern Promises?

        • koutchboom says :


        • Jarv says :

          But no,

          He hasn’t done anything truly “Great” since Dead Ringers.

          I like AHOV and EP a lot, but they aren’t in the same league as his 80’s output.

        • koutchboom says :

          AHOV and EP are fine but they feel incomplete and like they could’ve been made by anyone. EP more so then AHOV, because that movie feels and looks like a HBO television show, and ends where the main story begins.

        • Droid says :

          AHOV and EP couldn’t have been made by anyone. They’re too fucking good for that. And neither feels incomplete. Both are great fucking movies.

        • koutchboom says :

          Mr. Brooks….who ever made that could’ve made AHOV. I’ll give AHOV a break, its better then EP. Droid you just like EP because you wish your locker room showers were that exciting. Serious how does EP feel complete? Its like a great start to a possibly awesome HBO cop show. Had they not thrown that in there at the end, ehhhh maybe it would’ve been ok. But to throw that in there toward the end left it so open ended. Also EP looks like a HBO show there is nothing original in the style of it. I remember seeing it thinking I was just watching cable.

        • Jarv says :

          I like EP a lot, but you are pre-empting my main criticism of it here.

        • Jarv says :

          AHOV feels complete to me, but EP has stuff in it like that he’s SPOILER an undercover cop.

          It’s things like that that make me think it needs a sequel.

        • Jarv says :

          I don’t think they could have been made by anyone, but they aren’t distinctive “Cronenberg” films.

          EP uses London really well, Koutch.

        • koutchboom says :

          Fine it could’ve been a great BBC America series then.

        • koutchboom says :

          Sure they couldn’t have been made by anyone, but had anyone else made them they wouldn’t have turned out that different. Also they were both to similar in style and look, just boring. Like they almost did the same film twice.

        • Jarv says :

          Actually, you have a point there.

          If the BBC hadn’t lost its nuts completely about 10 years ago, they could well have banged out an EP miniseries on BBC 2 that would have been fucking epic.

          Sadly, they’re eunuchs obsessed with costume drama.

        • Droid says :

          Yeah, doesn’t surprise me you’d like Mr Brooks. That flick, despite having Costner and Hurt in it, was shit.

          Why do you need to know more about Eastern Promises? I didn’t come out of that movie thinking “Gee, shucks. I wish dem moovee makers wooda telled me more.”

          No. That movie was fine, and had closure. A complete film for me.

          And we all know Koutch is back with the instant homophobia.

        • koutchboom says :

          Who said anything about liking Mr. Brooks?

          I’m with Jarv, it ends at a much more interesting place then the whole movie. Like you know there is a much better story after what you just saw.

        • Droid says :

          You did when you said it would be the same film if it was directed by the guy who made Mr Brooks.

          I daren’t speak for Jarv, but I don’t think thats exactly what he was saying. Anyway, you don’t need him to present your argument. You’re capable of doing it yourself.

        • koutchboom says :

          Yeah it is so what? That’s got nothing to do with liking it.

        • Droid says :

          Then why bring it up? It seems to me that the comment is rendered pointless if you don’t actually like Mr Brooks.

        • koutchboom says :

          Well I don’t actually like History of Violence either. Just pointing out that its not some stand alone piece of cinema that only could’ve been made by one man at one point in their career sort of thing. It could’ve been just as good/bad had it been made by anyone else.

          Also the trailer ruined a lot of A History of Violence as well. Sort of like The Town and Red Eye, the trailers made me feel like I just saw the whole fucking movie so who cares.

        • Droid says :

          Yeah the trailer for AHOV did reveal too much. I haven’t seen The Town and don’t remember the Red Eye trailer. I remember seeing the trailer for that Denzel movie where he’s a quad. Its got Jolie in it. Anyway, the trailer had the killers voice in it, and when I saw him at the start of the movie I immediately knew that it was him. So, movie ruined. Luckily it was a shit movie anyway.

          I think you’re discounting Cronenberg by saying anyone could direct AHOV and EP. Despite what you think of the films, they are quality. They do however feel quite unCronenberg when you think about his earlier work. But I’d rather watch these films than Existenz and Crash.

        • koutchboom says :

          Yeah they are very UN Croneberg, even Spider is. Maybe you can say he’s growing up or changing directions. To me thought it just feels like he’s lost his edge. I mean AHOV is a comic book film for one. I need to watch them both again but I’d much rather watch Crash or Naked Lunch again, because at least those films don’t feel like something I’ve seen a million times.

          But again Spider was fucking awful. I remember seeing it and thinking???? This can’t be fucking Croneburg, what the fuck is this? Then I kept waiting for anything to happen besides seein Fines career sink further and further into the gutter. Its fucking odd to me that he just plays weirdos and villains now. He’s ok at them but its the same shit over and over. He’s best role was in Schindler’s, he was great in that.

        • Droid says :

          Fiennes’ best role is Strange Days.

        • koutchboom says :

          Another one I gotta watch again. I’ve seen the first 20 minutes of that movie like 100 times for some reason but only the whole thing once. FUCK I wish she still made movies as good as that and Point Blank. She’s fucking working with the Hurt Locker screen writer again on her next thing. It’ll suck.

        • Droid says :

          The first 20 minutes is pretty awesome though. A real kick in the nuts. I liked Hurt Locker a lot. Bigelow can do whatever she wants. She’s pretty much note perfect.

        • Jarv says :

          I don’t mean like that- I mean that the introduction that he was an undercover Russian Pig was unnecessary and suggested more than it could deliver in time.

          The main story of EP was complete- and the undercover stuff was extraneous, and I agree it is a really good film. Furthermore, at the end, the last shot suggests he’s really powerful in the Russian Mafia now, it’s Godfather-esque, so the cop thing suggests sequel plans.

        • Droid says :

          Not for me. The undercover aspect, which I contemplated being a possibility at about the halfway point, felt natural to me. Maybe because I considered that could be a late revelation, and I was half expecting it, it felt like a natural progression in the plot and the character, I didn’t feel the need for more. The undercover aspect explains some of the characters decisions, and his attitude towards certain characters. I don’t get the need to have everything played out. I prefer the abiguity of his position in the mafia at the end, which leaves open great options, and allows us to use our imagination and wonder where the story would go next.

          I don’t need to see a sequel, or a HBO tv show about it.

        • Droid says :

          We are jumping the gun on this conversation though.

        • Jarv says :


          NO MORE EP TALK!!!


    9. Tom_Bando says :

      Jarv, maybe you could do Martin Campbell’s stuff next-Mark of Zorro, Casino Royale, Goldeneye, stuff like that?

    10. ThereWolf says :

      I remember reading the synopsis back when Spider came out and thinking ‘not in the mood for that’ – and I’ve not been in the mood for it ever since. Looks like I made a decent call.

      Good review, Jarv.

    11. weight says :

      i can has cheeseburger?

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