‘Paper Spiders’ Review: Maternal Melodramatics

Lili Taylor plays a mother who spirals into madness in this unfortunately bland melodrama.

By Teo Bugbee

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The mother and daughter duo at the center of the family drama “Paper Spiders” are close enough to be casual about the things they fear. Dawn (Lili Taylor) frets about how Melanie (Stefania LaVie Owen) will soon leave home for college, but Melanie brushes off her worries with ease. Melanie breezily spends her days touring campuses and indulging in first high school romances. She trusts her mother to manage empty-nest concerns.

But Dawn’s run-of-the-mill anxiety soon explodes when she becomes fixated on the man who lives next door. Dawn is convinced this neighbor is bugging her home, and she rants about imagined attacks with rocks and electromagnetic rays. Melanie knows her mother is spiraling, but despite all their former closeness, she is unsure how to step into the role of caretaker.

Maternal paranoia has historically provided rich material for movie melodramas, but the style of the director Inon Shampanier’s filmmaking is diffident. The home that becomes the site of Dawn’s delusions is not gothic, it’s not grand guignol, it’s not giallo. The house is simply suburban — anonymous, like all of the film’s images. In absence of a bold visual style, the performers are tasked with providing the movie with its energy. It is a pleasure to see Lili Taylor sink her teeth into a starring role, and she plays her character’s manic descent with a palpable and heartbreaking practicality. Her performance suggests that no one clings to logic more than a person who has started to lose her mind.

Paper Spiders
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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