It can be rewarding to come to a movie with no knowledge of what it's about and few preconceptions apart from an admiration for previous work by the same director.
Especially when the film is far more challenging than you'd expected.
Until the opening scene of 'Spider' (2002), though the very promising cast list was a huge clue, I wasn't sure that one of David Cronenberg's finest achievements would be set in England; a story told in a London rarely brought to the screen but immediately recognisable, particularly in the extensive part of the film that takes place in drab streets I often visited in my childhood.
For a while, the plot foxed me completely.
I found 'Spider' on the science fiction and horror shelves, but the guy of intriguing and eclectic tastes who runs the video store agreed that it belongs among the psychological dramas.
A mumbling, shuffling Ralph Fiennes turns in an outstanding performance, from the moment he's the last man off the train, confused and half lost, as a schizophrenic released from a mental institution into a boarding hostel which serves as a halfway house for those who stand a chance of being reintegrated back into society.
In the man's flashbacks, which don't take long to begin, Miranda Richardson is equally superb as his beloved mother, as an ageing, loud-mouthed tart in the pub down the corner, and — sometimes — as the stern woman who runs the hostel, mainly played by Lynn Redgrave.
'Spider' is a relentlessly grim murder mystery and the childhood (Bradley Hall, as good as the rest of the cast) nickname for the disturbed Dennis Cleg, who sees his father (Gabrielle Byrne) split his mother's skull with a spade when she finds him having sex at the allotments by the railway with Yvonne.
The boy's mind is right off the rails when dad then brings home the tart who had drunkenly tormented the timid, quiet and friendless Spider by flashing a bare tit in the boy's face when he was sent to the pub by his mum to fetch his dad back for dinner. "I can't believe she done that!" shrieks one of Yvonne's girlfriends amid raucous laughter. That's an easy bit of the constantly colloquial English that would seem, understandably, to have bewildered a number of the Americans whose reviews I found at the IMDb when I had a look this morning.
But why is the released Dennis so obsessed with the monstrous gasworks tank which is about all he can see out of the window from his miserable, crudely furnished room in the hostel?
What is the code, if any, to the strange script Spider painstakingly uses with a pencil as he mumbles his memories, slowly and unreliably coming back to him, into his hidden notebook.