Paper Spiders parents guide

Paper Spiders Parent Guide

Despite its often frightening topic this film retains a warm, emotional core.

Overall C+

Digital on Demand: Melanie doesn't know what to do when her mother starts acting on paranoid delusions.

Release date May 7, 2021

Violence B
Sexual Content C
Profanity D
Substance Use D

Why is Paper Spiders rated TV-MA? The MPAA rated Paper Spiders TV-MA

Run Time: 109 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Most teenagers, at some point, accuse their parents of being crazy. But what happens when adolescent hyperbole is replaced with frightening reality?

Melanie (Stefania LaVie Owen) is a bright senior with a 4.0 average and plans to take pre-med at USC. Her widowed mother, Dawn (Lili Taylor), is loving, devoted, and more than a bit neurotic. When the pair return from a visit to California, Dawn begins hearing noises in the house and becomes convinced that their new neighbor is stalking and threatening her. As her mental illness progresses, she imperils her own safety and her daughter’s future.

Paper Spiders is a powerful story about mental illness and its ripple effect on families. Lili Taylor brilliantly creates a disturbed character who is more than just her illness. We don’t just see Dawn’s delusions, we see a woman who is quirky, bright, funny, warm-hearted, afraid of loneliness, and deeply anxious. Stefania LaVie Owen also gives an authentic portrayal of a daughter pushed to the breaking point in her attempts to protect, help, and save her struggling mother. Melanie’s pain, exhaustion, hurt and love are tangible on screen.

The biggest takeaway from Paper Spiders is not just the suffering caused mental illness, but the lack of community support. My heart breaks for Melanie, who carries on alone, with no network of family friends or anyone else to help. There are adults who are aware of Dawn’s problems – the police, the school guidance counselor, Dawn’s boss – but none seem able to suggest any back-up for Melanie. Lonely, scared, and indomitable, Melanie keeps on with her agonizing task, providing viewers with solid messages about love and persistence while also making room for conversations about boundaries and personal safety.

Given the movie’s upsetting subject, this clearly isn’t a show for youngsterss, although mature teens might learn a lot from this perceptive production. The biggest content issue here is drug and alcohol use, with a secondary teen character who is an alcoholic, and frequent scenes of teens imbibing heavily. A teen is implied to be driving drunk in one scene and another eats a marijuana edible resulting in hallucinations. Frankly, none of this behavior is portrayed in a positive light and discussing the consequences of these activities could be a useful exercise with teens. The film also features implied teen sexual activity and about two dozen profanities, including ten sexual expletives.

Movies about mental illness are a subgenre all their own, and Paper Spiders is a fine exemplar of the type. Dawn’s descent into irrationality is terrifying and feels suitably ominous but there’s a warmth in the movie that’s never fully snuffed out, even in its darkest moments. That warmth keeps the movie from turning into a psychological horror show and ensures that it remains a human story about love, relationships, and hope.

Directed by Inon Shampanier. Starring Lili Taylor, Stefania LaVie Owen. Running time: 109 minutes. Theatrical release May 7, 2021. Updated

Watch the trailer for Paper Spiders

Paper Spiders
Rating & Content Info

Why is Paper Spiders rated TV-MA? Paper Spiders is rated TV-MA by the MPAA

Violence: There are scenes of a woman shouting at people. A woman grabs a mallet to confront an intruder. There’s mention of a person dying from a heart attack. One character punches another. A character suggests suicide.  A woman slaps her daughter. A character menaces people with a hammer.
Sexual Content:   There is a vague conversation about a teen girl’s sexual encounters. A teenage boy and girl strip down to their underwear and go swimming. There are scenes of teenage boys and girls kissing. There is a scene of a teenage boy and girl kissing in bed; sex is implied. A girl talks about being naked in public.
Profanity: There are approximately 10 sexual expletives in the movie, eight terms of deity and a smattering of scatological curses, anatomical expressions, and minor swear words.
Alcohol / Drug Use:  A teenager drinks alcohol frequently, even at school. Teenagers drink wine at a restaurant; one spikes his wine with vodka. A teenager drives after drinking; it’s implied that he’s impaired. A teenager drinks shots and then eats a marijuana edible and hallucinates.

Page last updated

Paper Spiders Parents' Guide

Daniel is very determined in his pursuit of Melanie. Is there a point at which pursuit becomes harassment? Do you think Daniel is crossing that line?

What do you think of Melanie’s decision? Would you have made the same choice?

Home Video

Related home video titles:

In Words on Bathroom Walls, a previously healthy teenage boy suddenly starts having alarming visual and auditory hallucinations. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Adam starts on medication and tries to rebuild his life.

Schizophrenia becomes a key plot element in the horror thriller, Fear of Rain. When a teenage girl with hallucinations caused by schizophrenia sees a young girl in danger, no one believes her.

A Beautiful Mind reminds us that mental illness doesn’t necessarily prevent people from making significant contributions. Russell Crowe stars here as John Forbes Nash Jr., a real life mathematician who struggled with mental illness only to win the Nobel Prize.

Delusional disorders can’t be cured but effective medications exist that help people regain rational perspectives. In the 19th century, the mentally ill weren’t so fortunate. The Professor and the Madman tells the true story of a man incarcerated in an asylum after committing murder while in a delusional state. But he’s also brilliant and plays a pivotal role in creating the greatest dictionary in the English language.