Cronenberg's latest journey into the dark side of human nature largely takes place in a London half-way house for the mentally ill, where they are "tested" to see if they are safe for society, and vice-versa. The latest tenant, Spider (Fiennes, with barely an intelligible sentence of dialogue), scrawls in his notebook while thinking back to his childhood, where his father (Byrne) murdered his mother (Richardson). Or did he? As events unravel, so does Spider, and the audience shifts uneasily, aware of Cronenberg's fondness for making illusion and hallucination seem equally as "real" as actual events.
It's a typically chilly view of dysfunction from the director, albeit greatly restrained on physical violence (a couple of mildly squirm-inducing moments, most memorably one involving a shard of broken glass). Neither is it perhaps the kind of film that immediately grabs you - four people behind us walked out less than ten minutes in - though it's just about worth staying the distance, simply to try and discover the truth. Richardson in particular is outstanding, in a variety of roles, but can't really conceal the film's lack of depth. Did his childhood traumas cause his illness, or were they a reflection of it? Either way, it's clear this is one Spider you should be afraid of, and everyone would be better off with him back in the asylum, from whence he came. You feel not so much sympathy for him, as outright pity, and that's about it for this movie in the way of emotion.