Directed by David Cronenberg starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Bradley Hall and Lynn Redgrave.

After years in a psychiatric institution, Dennis 'Spider' Cleg (Fiennes) is released and sent to a halfway house in his native East End. Run by the harsh Mrs Wilkinson (Redgrave), Spider has no-one inside or outside the hovel who can help him try to adjust to a world he lost understanding of as a small boy. He stops taking his medication and accompanying his younger self(Hall) begins to wander around the once familiar places of childhood. Here he returns to the story of his father (Byrne), mother (Richardson) and Yvonne (Richardson again), the prostitute with ideas about taking Mrs Cleg's place.

Those who know Cronenberg's work or reputation from films like 'Scanners', 'Videodrome' and 'The Fly' will find his latest a major shock to the system. Remarkably restrained, it has none of the flesh and blood usually associated with the director although it is arguably the most harrowing film he has ever made. Within the confines of a character study he can address his themes of isolation and retreat into mind and body but 'Spider' also works as an indictment of a society that can let people fall - and continue to fall - through the cracks.

Surrounded by the uncaring or unable, Spider goes outside to walk deserted streets, the colossus of alienation (echoed by the gasometer outside his window) looming so large over him that any hope of the remedial power of relationships seems abandoned before his story has really begun. And the question of whether a lock and key world is the better option for him or the easier one for you will haunt throughout.

You'll probably figure out the ending long before you should but as the title suggests, there is much to untangle in the story of Spider's life. Here, perception, sexuality and the complexities of adult interaction cause chaos in a young mind, and the strength of Cronenberg's direction and Patrick McGrath's script (of his own novel) is that they force you to side with and suspect a 10-year-old boy at the same time.

But whatever the plot lacks in tension or pace it compensates for hundred fold by providing the outlet for a stunning performance from Fiennes. He has only three or four intelligible lines in the whole film, yet his take on the trapped and mumbling victim who scrawls over scrawl in a notebook and can only look inside himself is almost hypnotic. It's a role which would allow many actors to convince themselves that hamming it up can only lead to more plaudits, but Fiennes' respect for and knowledge of the character means he never strays from the muted feel of the film. Backed up by a great cast – most notably Richardson playing three roles - the big question is if Russell Crowe got an Oscar nomination for 'A Beautiful Mind', how can Fiennes ever be honoured for what he achieves here?

'Spider's release will be limited, the box office take small and its impact stuck somewhere between the two. It's a film that will survive largely on word of mouth, but even non-Cronenberg fans should pay and tell their friends to see this one.

Harry Guerin