Film Review: Paper Spiders

Dawn and Melanie shopping

Mental health, or the lack of it, was probably the biggest challenge facing health authorities across the First World even before the pandemic hit. The issue has become even more pressing given the number of lockdowns, job losses and bereavements suffered over the last year across the globe. However, portrayals of mental illness on the big screen have largely ranged from two-dimensional to horrendously misjudged. Paper Spiders manages to portray a serious illness with a lot of empathy.

At first glance, Dawn (Lili Taylor) and Melanie (Stefania LaVie Owen) seem to have an ideal mother-daughter relationship. Despite recently losing their husband/father, which they’re both dealing with in their own way. Whilst Melanie has concentrated on her studies and is planning on going away to college, mom has become increasingly anxious about this impending departure and the prospect of being alone. Things come to a head when a new neighbour moves in.

Paper Spiders is an emotive and thoughtful film about a woman struggling to come to terms with a delusional disorder she can no longer hide. At its heart is the relationship between Dawn and Melanie and the bond between them. Filmmaking couple Inon and Natalie Shampanier channel their personal experiences to make an authentic portrait of mental illness. Taylor is fantastic, a slowly unravelling portrait of psychosis. Whilst the coming-of-age drama doesn’t work quite as well, Paper Spiders is an impressive drama which hits most of the right beats.

Paper Spiders is in US theatres and VOD on 7 May.

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