Spyder: A Wickedly Comforting Guilty-pleasure

Originally appeared in Film Companion.

I vividly remember watching Spyder on its opening day in the September of 2017. My parents flew down to Chennai, where I was studying, for the Dussehra weekend. For the festive movie-watching ritual, we picked Spyder, the most anticipated film of the year. One of the biggest stars of the south, Mahesh Babu, was collaborating with one of the most successful filmmakers of the south, A.R. Murugadoss. In an interview, while promoting the film, Mahesh Babu called the film the next Bahubali, stating that the film was a visual spectacle for all ages.

For the lack of a better word, I have to say that the trailer looked cool, both visually and conceptually. It had Mahesh Babu, playing an intelligence officer named Shiva, accessing cool gadgets, sharply looking at computers, and doing things that action heroes in Hollywood films do. The expectations were skyrocketing, and it just couldn’t go wrong. Finally, we are giving a fitting answer to the dumb American action extravaganza, I believed. Baradwaj Rangan’s review, headlined ‘one of the best things AR Murugadoss has written and directed’ coupled with a 3-star rating, reaffirmed my belief. I did not read the whole review, which if I had would have helped me prepare for the bizarre ride that film was going to be. I did not have the slightest idea how different the film would turn out to be from what we were promised.

After a generic but watchable 25 minutes composed of the hero-introduction, a customary song dedicated to the man, and a spark-less boy-meets-girl (more of the hero stalking heroine after overhearing on her talk on the phone to her friend about pornography), we get a true shocker where Spyder takes a 180-degree turn. Two women are butchered and their remains are mixed, and women from both families are requested to identify the body parts, as Shiva and we watch in shock and disgust, digesting the grotesque tragedy. The scene is disturbing on multiple levels. Firstly, the obvious gore that is left to our imagination. Secondly, this wasn’t supposed to be that kind of film! We were just there to watch Mahesh Babu effortlessly take on thugs in slow motion and walk away without a scratch. The theatre had never been more silent, especially for a mainstream entertainer of this scale on the first day, even by multiplex standards.https://www.youtube.com/embed/iN30TjyEVTU?feature=oembed

This level of threat within the first 30 minutes of the films is unheard of in the Telugu masala zone. My mom was visibly appalled and she still holds a grudge against A.R. Murugadoss for ruining a perfect family outing; she refused to watch his latest film Darbar, fearing it might leave a bad aftertaste during Pongal this year. Her anger is valid: a film about a chilling psychotic serial killer on the loose certainly doesn’t make for a family viewing, and most importantly, it doesn’t make for a masala film either, and that’s where Spyder goes haywire. It blends sinister ideas that would thrive in a horror film with a masala treatment, and the result is far from both. It is too nasty and chilling to make for an entertaining watch and lacks the necessary power to make for a gut-punching psychological thriller.

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