Review: Paper Spiders

I’ve always enjoyed the performances of Lili Taylor starting with Mystic Pizza. And reading her bio on IMDB probably explains why. One of her quotes reads, “I guess the characters I play may be at the more destructive edge of the spectrum, more damaged or whatever, but I find a lot of female roles uninteresting. I would rather play someone who’s fucked-up and deep than someone who’s one-dimensional and invisible. I would rather drive something and be crazy than be forgotten and nothing.” And her latest role is totally in that vein. In this mother-daughter, coming-of-age drama she plays Dawn, a woman with delusional disorder who’s convinced that the new next door neighbor is out to get her. Meanwhile her daughter Melanie (Stefania LaVie Owen) with whom she has a close and loving relationship is just trying to get through her senior year so she can head off to college. And as Dawn spirals out of control, Melanie tries to find a way to save her from herself despite her complete denial.

The film opens with Dawn and Melanie going on a trip to California to look at USC. They’re warm and fun together, even as Dawn plays mother hen pointing out the dangers in every situation. Back at home they finish each other’s sentences and seem closer than most teenage girls and their moms. But what kicks off the drama with the new neighbor is when his moving truck hits a tree on Dawn’s property, one planted by her late husband. From that moment on Dawn starts seeing him as the enemy. She believes he’s on the roof. That he’s throwing rocks at the house. She calls the cops and hires a detective. Eventually she’s convince he’s sending some kind of electronic waves over into their house the give her pain.

And while all that is happening at home, Melanie is falling love, preparing for prom, and looking forward to college. But Dawn’s mounting craziness begins to interfere with her life, too. And their once tight relationship deteriorates. The film is told from her perspective, alternating her coming-of-age story with a look at what untreated mental health problems do to the people closest to them.

Paper Spiders is an affecting drama subtly directed by Inon Shampanier that keeps you wondering how far Dawn’s delusions will go yet still hoping for a good outcome. Lili Taylor nails her character, diving deep into Dawn’s increasing paranoias. And Owen’s strong performance as the daughter being asked to grow up too fast balances the film. You ache for her, knowing that she’s scared to death of losing the mother she loves so much. The film will surely resonate with people whose families have dealt with mental illness and perhaps function as a PSA about delusion disorder and how to cope with it. Put it on your list for when it comes out!

The film is awaiting distribution. No trailer available as yet. Check back for updates.

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