Spider (2002)

When one thinks of writer-director David Cronenberg, one usually thinks of his innovative horror classics: Videodrome, The Fly, The Brood, and perhaps even his most recent dystopian-esque body horror return, Crimes of the Future. But throughout his vast filmography that spans across multiple genres, there are a few pictures that have flown under the radar and have ended up rather underappreciated. 2002’s Spider is one of these films.

"dives deep into the horrors of how complicated the mind can be"

Based on the book of the same name by Peter McGrath and the screenplay even penned by the author himself, this psychological thriller follows mental patient, Spider (Ralph Fiennes), during his reentry into society after an elongated stay in a mental institution. But upon arriving at the halfway house that’s seated in the cold and lonely London in which he grew up, Spider starts reliving the most traumatic moments of his childhood witnessing the contentious relationship between his abusive and unfaithful father, Mr. Cleg (Gabriel Byrne), and his sweet and forgiving mother, Mrs. Cleg (Miranda Richardson) that Spider has an affection for that is probably a little too intense (one that Freud would probably have a field day with). But while he endures these horrific memories again, is his schizophrenic mind one to be trusted?

When Spider ventures out of the confines of the depressing house run by the strict Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), who he quickly starts causing problems for, this is where the film starts to seamlessly blend the past and present as if we were in Spider’s distorted mind. He walks through the seemingly vacated streets of London and makes it to sites that he remembers to be the destinations of his most traumatic childhood events. Brilliantly, there are no cliché indicators for his memories. We watch them almost as if they were part of the present. He visits where his mother’s body lies, the grim little house where he grew up, and even the bar in which his hostile father frequented and started up an affair with rowdy prostitute Yvonne (also Richardson). Spider (2002)

I would not call Fiennes’s portrayal of Spider a classic type of schizophrenic (as if I would know if there even is one) because his character is so unique and particular. But in any case, the intriguing part about this character (and whole film really) is that he is an unreliable narrator. He sees Yvonne and his mother with the same face and he observes events between his father and mother at times that he probably wasn’t even present for. There is a constant wonder by the audience of what is the truth and what Spider is making up. But one thing is clear: all of these memories are a culmination of the villainization of his father. And as we find out by the end, his father is probably not as bad as Spider remembers him to be and maybe Spider is to blame for a tragedy that has haunted him for his whole life.

Fiennes gives an absolutely stunning performance in this. It is probably the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen the actor in such a complicated a genuine role. There is a power in the understated parts of the performance. The way Fiennes mumbles, drags his feet, his almost complete inability to look anyone in the eye, and the way he curls up in the bathtub all make Spider a very compelling and troubled person.

And Richardson is tremendous in her double (actually triple) role that almost steals the whole film right out from underneath Fiennes. She expertly navigates between the two drastically different roles of the soft Mrs. Cleg and the rather dirty Yvonne. So much so that it is hard to even realize at first that Richardson is playing Yvonne when she first comes on the screen.

Spider is, needless to say, not a particularly pleasant film by any means, but it is a very arresting one that dives deep into the horrors of how complicated the mind can be. It is a film that is marked by compelling performances, an intricate story, and Cronenberg’s simplistic vision. It never feels like it tries to do too much, but rather gives a subjective view from a traumatic childhood in an almost unsympathetic, simple way. By the end, the audience is left with enough information to form their own opinion with a resolution that has just the right amount of ambiguity. It is a very impactful and underrated work by the veteran filmmaker.

Spider is now available on Blu Ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

4/5 stars


 Spider (2002)

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Sony Pictures
Available on Blu-ray
- December 13, 2022
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Spider (Ralph Fiennes) has been allowed a second chance at life after a long stay in a mental institution ad sent to a halfway house under the stern watch of Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave). Revisiting his old neighborhood reawakens memories of where his mother (Miranda Richardson) and his father (Gabriel Byrne) raised him. He soon begins to uncover the real truth shifting seamlessly back and forth between the tragic events that polarized a boy’s adolescence to the shell of a man enduring the surreal plausible reality of today.


With this being the first, high quality home release of the film, the image is quite immaculate! Presented in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio, this new 1080p restoration really accentuates the cold and grimy atmosphere of the lonely and deserted London of Spider’s mind. The film naturally has quite a minimal and muted color scheme so there is not much to say for color, but the couple scenes we do see outside, there is a nice little pop. The only small gripe is that there is almost a complete absence of grain, which is a shame, but the overall detail and sharpness is great for a clean look, so I can’t really complain. Overall, it looks great.


The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is healthy and clear. Because of the film’s content, there really isn’t much room to show off the highs and lows that the surround sound offers, but everything on the soundtrack does immerse you in the dreadful and tense mood of the picture.


There doesn’t seem to be anything new included on this home release, but the old footage, featurettes, and commentary are worth giving a watch with great insights on the film from Cronenberg and the cast.


  • Filmmaker Commentary

Special Features:

  • “In the Beginning: How Spider Came to Be” Featurette
  • “Weaving the Web: The Making of Spider” Featurette
  • “Caught in the Spider’s Web: The Cast” Featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 4/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4/5 stars


Film Details

Spider (2002)

MPAA Rating: R.
98 mins
: David Cronenberg
Patrick McGrath
Ralph Fiennes; Miranda Richardson; Gabriel Byrne
: Mystery | Drama
The only thing worse than losing your mind... is finding it again.
Memorable Movie Quote: "What you say your name was? Now don't tell me... Bill. Always been one of my favorites. I had a cat called Bill once."
Theatrical Distributor:
Sony Pictures Classic
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 13, 2002
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
December 13, 2022
Synopsis: Released after decades in a sanitarium, schizophrenic Dennis "Spider" Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) moves into Mrs. Wilkinson's (Lynn Redgrave) halfway house and befriends a fellow resident, Terrence (John Neville), before retreating into personal writing and the darkness of his own haunted mind. Spider struggles to decipher murky memories of a childhood trauma involving his abusive father (Gabriel Byrne), his murdered mother (Miranda Richardson), and a prostitute who may have replaced her.


Spider (2002)