Bleak yet enthralling, Spider tells the story of Dennis Clegg, nicknamed Spider by his mother. A deeply disturbed individual, when we first meet Spider (an unkempt Fiennes), he's just been released from a mental institution after years of detention for undisclosed reasons. He's sent to stay in a boarding house run by Mrs Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), which is located in roughly the same area of East London as he grew up in. Through a series of flashbacks, triggered by this return to his home patch, we learn of Spider's history and his difficult relationship with his apparently ill-suited parents (played by Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson).
Low key and very dark, Spider is an absorbing study of the nature of identity, memory and perspective. Patrick McGrath has done a fine job of adapting his own novel for the screen and even if the film's overwhelming sense of inevitable doom becomes a little suffocating before the end, Spider is nonetheless a notable offering, with Cronenberg far more efficient than he usually is. Fiennes does excellent work as the adult Spider, giving a finely tuned performance, despite his character's distinct lack of audible dialogue. The real plaudits, however, should be reserved for Richardson in her dual roles.