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‘Paper Spiders’ – Review

‘Paper Spiders’ – Review


Sometimes it’s the smallest films that can have the most impact on the audience and that’s exactly where director Inon Shampanier’s Paper Spiders comes into play with its exploration of the coming of age of a young woman against very personal struggles.

Paper Spiders tells the story of high schooler Melanie (Stefania Owen) who is struggling to help her mother Dawn (Lili Taylor), whose paranoid delusions spiral out of control in a bittersweet story about coming of age in the shadow of mental illness.

Winning numerous accolades on the film festival circuit, including Best Picture at the Boston Film Festival, Inon Shampanier’s Paper Spiders is a film of rhythmic simplicity and its character-driven story of a complex relationship shared between a mother and her teenage daughter has a big impact on the audience. Set in suburban America, high-flying achiever Melanie, who is portrayed in a courageous performance by rising New Zealand star Stefania Owen, suddenly comes up against the solid wall of her mother’s burgeoning mental illness and this throws one hell of a spanner in the works. Dialogue-driven, and emotionally poignant, Paper Spiders is the exploration of Melanie’s desire for some kind of normalcy in a very complex situation. And your heartstrings will feel the emotional pull with this one.

Stefania Owen shines through in her performance as Melanie, a teenager who is on the cusp of womanhood and who is experiencing and dealing with the complex emotions that come with the end of adolescence and the presence of adulthood. A straight-A student with the world at her feet, her life takes a tumbling fall into complexity after her mother Dawn (Lili Taylor) shows signs of a deliberating mental illness. And after this event, all bets are off. Paper Spiders is a film packed with big emotions and complex and real issues, and Owen shows incredible depth as a performer well beyond her years as she falls into her character. The response she has to her mother is met with a desire for love and understanding, no matter how heavy the cost.

Playing off of Owen is respected performer Lili Taylor as Melanie’s mother Dawn. An erratic, and complex woman, Taylor’s Dawn soon falls into the pitfalls of mental illness and her naturalistic performance makes an impression on the audience. Taylor leans heavily into the realities that come with severe mental illness and her performance is heart-breaking to witness. We see a woman who is desperate to be there for her daughter, but whose struggles and affliction cause nothing but pain and drama. Taylor and Shampanier’s attention to detail with Dawn shows through in the finished film and is one of Taylor’s best performances to date.

Paper Spiders is a caring and open film that deals with complex issues, but shows great compassion towards its subject matter. It’s a simple, yet effective narrative and its thought-provoking drama will stay with audiences as the credits begin to roll.

Image: Radioactive Pictures