is an expert at exploring the dark recesses of the human mind,
so he seems an obvious choice to direct this quietly creepy
drama about schizophrenia. But the film is just a bit too
artificial to really work. Spider (Fiennes) is a man with
serious mental problems; he's just been released from a hospital
and is learning to live in an East London boarding house,
but his old paranoia keeps coming back in the form of childhood
memories. He vividly recalls his younger self (Hall) watching
as his mother (Richardson) is brutally murdered by his father
(Byrne) and replaced with a blowsy hooker (Richardson again).
But are his memories accurate? Was he losing touch with reality
The script is superb, grappling with serious issues with real
insight and tenderness, drawing us into the story without
ever preaching (indeed, there's hardly any dialog at all!).
And Cronenberg directs it beautifully, letting us fall straight
into Spider's mind. His approach to flashbacks is fiercely
clever and very eerie, playing on the blurring of the imagined,
perceived and actual past. Frustratingly, there are two things
that keep snapping us out of the "reality" of the story. First,
the production design is erratic and overdone; not only does
it muddle the period, but every set looks like it was slapped
with a fresh coat of drab paint just before the cameras started
rolling--artificially dilapidated, with quirky furniture and
costumes only a film crew would put together. Admittedly,
this adds to the general unsettled atmosphere, but it also
keeps us at arm's length. And the same can be said of Fiennes'
performance, which is detailed and deeply committed, but it's
also Acting! with a capital A and an exclamation point, never
a real man who's deeply disturbed. The rest of the cast fares
better; Richardson is particularly good. And while the film
has disturbing, scary, involving and ultimately deeply sad
moments, it never really goes anywhere. Frustrating indeed.