SYNOPSIS: Two inmates (Miles Teller & Jurnee Smollett) form a connection while grappling with their pasts in a state-of-the-art penitentiary run by a brilliant visionary (Chris Hemsworth) who experiments on his subjects with mind-altering drugs. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Top Gun: Maverick, Tron: Legacy). Based on The New Yorker short story, “Escape From Spiderhead,” by George Saunders.
Netflix has the tendency to assemble the best talents in Hollywood for their original productions but most came up short in the end anyway. The talents here are once again impeccable. The story is based on a dystopian short story by award-winning writer George Saunders. It’s adapted to the screen by Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. And it also stars mighty Thor, Chris Hemsworth and helmed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) who is currently riding high on the success of Top Gun Maverick.
Still, Spiderhead is a complete disengaging effort from start to finish. As a sci-fi thriller, it operates entirely on a singular idea about the usage of a form of futuristic drug. And as a dystopian drama, there is hardly any relevant plot development in the entire movie to even call it that. Put all these elements together, all you get is nearly two hours of obvious boredom.
Anyway, Hemsworth stars as Steve Abnesti, the charming, smartly-dressed funny dude who runs a facility which deals with experimenting of new drugs. His volunteers are actually prisoners of the state but staying in Spiderhead allows them limited freedom and luxury so long as they are willing to subject to Abnesti’s daily test runs of various drugs including one sinister named Darkenfloxx. The drugs sometimes induce physical and psychological pain in their subjects and also drives them into having vigorous sex with each other. What could go wrong with that?
Of course, the dark premise reminds one of Alex Garland’s excellent Ex Machina and Michael Bay’s much maligned yet entertaining The Island. Both movies deal with the downfall of technology and science which makes it kind of similar to what Spiderhead is trying to achieve. Yet none of the fanciful ideas came to fruition in the scripting nor Kosinski’s directing. Everyone involved seems lost and confused as to what to do with the material that it comes off more as a brilliantly shot Queensland travelogue starring Chris Hemsworth.
And talking about Hemsworth, the Australian beefcake seems to be having a wild time playing a weird, evil genius though he is somewhat restrained in his performance. Hemsworth has been busy producing and starring in a series of flicks outside the comfort of his MCU outings so we have to give him some credit for at least trying. Starring opposite him is Miles Teller who plays the perfect tormented character to a T.
Ultimately, Spiderhead is a sci-fi flick without a soul. None of the characters except perhaps Jeff have a compelling significant backstory. The experiments using chemicals to alter a person’s behavior is as sketchy as Steve’s doodles on his notebook. The worst part is the insertion of some awkward humor which includes a repetitive gag about faeces and over-the-top sexual bits. Sadly, though we couldn’t find anything here that actually works, we are pretty sure there are better projects coming their way for everyone involved. Spiderhead in short is a dud. Move on people, there’s little to see here.
Review by Linus Tee