Anyone pining for news about Matt Reeves‘ The Batman might find temporary solace in an unlikely place: The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Sony Pictures invited Collider and a few other journalists to watch the first 20 minutes of Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez‘s adaptation of the David Lagercrantz novel, and what we saw played a lot like an alt-universe Swedish superhero story, providing Bruce Wayne is now 5’4″ and played by spectacular Emmy-winner Claire Foy.
Where previous Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films have painted their title character as a side-protagonist, Foy’s Lisbeth Salander is front and center in Spider’s Web. The film opens with the hacker vigilante stringing an abusive husband up by the ankle, transferring his wealth to his wife’s bank account, and then, naturally, tazing him in the dick. The character Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) does pop up but only briefly, then it’s back to Lisbeth, navigating neon-lit dance clubs, accepting a job from a character played by Stephen Merchant, or in her isolated warehouse home—let’s call it the Sal-Cave—where she lives with a pet lizard. Alvarez’s horror chops are occasionally on display—we saw a particularly chilling dream sequence involving a vacuum sealer—but what was most impressive is the way the Uruguayan filmmaker frames action; the footage cut to black after a breathtaking motorcycle chase that literally explodes outward from Lisbeth’s home and on to a barely-holding lake of ice.
Alvarez and Foy—less than 24 hours removed from the latter’s Emmy win—were on-hand for a Q&A, both aware of the film’s comic book-ish influences.
“This is the first time that we dare to tell a story 100% about her,” Alvarez said. “That’s a huge difference and that’s why I think we said on the first day she’s like a feminist Batman. That’s who she is. It does have that element of a superhero.”
For Alvarez, though, where The Girl in the Spider’s Web differs from your average female-fronted comic book epic—Wonder Woman, maybe, or even the recent look at Captain Marvel—is Lisbeth’s gritty realness, both aesthetically and attitude-wise. Foy is almost unrecognizable in the role, hack-haired, pierced, and, of course, tattooed, and the director noted that he wanted to prioritize that individuality over everything.
“We even had discussions about how the camera will move to not feel like we’re doing the wrong thing. [Claire] reminded me every day, “You’re a male white man, Fede, don’t forget”…but it’s true, there’s a point to that. Every moment, if I’m shooting her, it’s like “Am I making it too sexy right now? Maybe I should pull back.” It was super present in our heads more than it even would be because it was coming right when [the Me Too movement] was happening. It was the perfect movie to honor that, to make sure we didn’t do anything that was stupid exploitation-y. Allowing her to not care about how she’s going to look…Look at the other movies, and other superhero movies where they are so proud that there’s a female in front of it. I still see it a little bit as like, well, but they still ask you to look impeccable, and pretty, and [in] tight clothes and stuff like that. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m saying at least in this one we didn’t do any of that. We really embraced it in a way that, for a movie of this size, I tell you it has never been done before.”
Specifically pointing to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Foy discussed both her admiration and protectiveness over her character. The actress mentioned a sex scene that was nixed—”It didn’t serve the character,” she said. “There was no purpose to it.”—as well as a special attention paid to Lisbeth’s sexuality. Or, more accurately, a special level of indifference.
“What I thought was so important…is that it doesn’t become a cliche or a sort of tool by which to say this person has sex with women and therefore that tells you something about her,” Foy said. “I don’t think that’s true. Ultimately it’s about the person and finding the truth of that person.”
What I really love about [Lisbeth], so much, is her unwillingness to be identified in any particular way. She rejects any labeling, anything society wants to put on her, or anyone else wants to put on her, she lives entirely as herself. And therefore, she will seek pleasure where she seeks pleasure. Whether that’s with a man, or a woman, or on her own. She has absolutely no judgment or ability to identify with other people in that way…Now you can trust in an audience loving a difficult character. She’s not loveable, she’s not polite, she’s not pretty. She’s not everything that you think a female protagonist is supposed to be. She’s hard. She makes really terrible, terrible decisions and you don’t know if you can get behind them. I think that’s the interesting thing about it. Obviously, she’s a survivor of abuse. That’s just how I see her, as a survivor. If that, therefore, means she represents people, represents a certain movement, then that’s amazing.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web—which also stars Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, and Cameron Britton—hits theaters on November 9.