Spiderhead review

Overblown to the point of excess, Spiderhead is a psychological thriller aspiring to be more than a waste of its talented cast and viewer’s time.

Jeff (Miles Teller, Top Gun: Maverick) is part of a unique trial program in a private penitentiary system called Spiderhead. 

The program is run by Steve (Chris Hemsworth, Interceptor), a pharmacist trying too hard to be everyone’s BFF while failing to completely hide his more sinister side. Along with his assistant, Mark (Mark Paguio), Steve is perfecting drugs that alter participants’ emotions. Each participant has a pack attached to their back where drug capsules are released via an app. It doesn’t seem like technology that isn’t very far off at this rate. 

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Each drug controls different emotions from lust, gluttony, rage, fear, paranoia, etc. While Mark is clearly bothered toying with emotions, Steve can’t get enough. For Steve, the trials are basically like controlling his own reality show. 

It’s not all bad for the participants considering they all could be in a standard prison for their crimes. They’ve got free run of the facility and Steve has provided separate rooms, a food pantry and even arcade games. It’s just a star down from a white-collar prison. Jeff even strikes up a relationship with fellow prisoner/participant Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett, Lovecraft Country).

It’s clear not everything is right at Spiderhead as Steve enjoys playing the emotional puppet master a little too much. That extends beyond the drug trials as he keeps placing Jeff in positions to make critical decisions that affect his fellow participants. Specifically deciding who gets a powerful drug that sends the recipient into an uncontrollable rage. 

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Director Joseph Kosinski (Top Gun: Maverick) undercuts most of the uneasiness this premise, originally crafted by George Saunders’

This then puts too much of the film’s burden on Hemsworth’s ability to a deranged Pharma bro. Wait, is that redundant?

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Maybe this was yet another instance where the film would have benefited from swapping the two leads? Sure, it deprives Hemsworth of switching lanes and expanding his range, but sticking to the likable action hero with a broad smile to match his shoulders has worked out pretty well for Dwayne Johnson.

There’s nothing wrong with playing the good guy all the time. Hemsworth comes off like a naturally likable guy. In this role it feels like Hemsworth is actually working too hard to be the psycho pharmacist. He rarely comes off natural and overall the role feels like a bad fit for Hemsworth.

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No disrespect intended to Teller, but it seems like he’d have an easier time pulling off the cocky bully getting off on having some power over people. And the visual of Teller lording his control over Hemsworth would probably be more effective as well. 

The script, from Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, doesn’t offer much assistance either. Two supposedly significant mid-movie plot twists fail to register. It’s a case where Reese and Wernick deliberately held back information presumably in the hope of shocking viewers. Instead, it just comes off silly and doesn’t actually add anything to a character’s arc. The other twist is meant to feel like a major bombshell but again it’s worthless as it doesn’t actually matter to the end point. 

Despite these issues, Spiderhead could have limped to a passable “eh, it’s a Netflix movie” recommendation if not for a tumbling house of cards final act. Kosinski tries to make it serious with an important philosophical debate only to derail it with a comedic chase. There are few things worse than a dumb movie the filmmakers think is so smart.

spiderhead review - lizzy and jeff

It’s here where Kosinski opts to pay off the “mystery” of the participant smearing their feces-covered hands along walls. Throw in another 80s pop hit and like the hygiene-impaired prisoner, this is a crappy conclusion. 

Spiderhead’s stench has already worn off from its leads. Teller is co-starring with Tom Cruise in the biggest hit of 2022, which Kosinski directed, and Hemsworth returns in his fan favorite Thor role in Thor: Love and Thunder. The best thing for all involved, including viewers, is to just forget that Spiderhead ever existed. 

Rating: 3 out of 10

Photo Credit: Netflix

 

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