Spiderhead spins a yarn that leads to a web of underwhelming destinations.
This review of the Netflix film Spiderhead does not contain spoilers.
I’ve never really put any stock into how much it costs to make a movie. All I care about is if I enjoyed the film experience or not. However, when I heard that Netflix spent over $100 million on the new Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller vehicle, Spiderhead, the film left me wondering where all the money went? The film has limited special effects. Most of the scenes are shot inside rooms with either white or beige colored walls. The film resulted from Covid-19 restricted filmmaking in Australia, which explains the limited cast. Either way, the money went to the leads and Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski. Indeed, an audit will have to be performed because this may be the film that had Netflix reportedly stop offering blank checks for passion projects.
Yes, we are going to judge Spiderhead on its merit. It is by no means a total misfire. It just didn’t live up to its unlimited potential. The script was written for the screen by the Deadpool duo of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Based on one of the short stories by the George Saunders collection titled, Tenth of December. The script and Claudio Miranda’s (Life of Pi) bleak yet evocative photography give Kosinski’s film a 70s filmmaking vibe. With an emphasis on rising against counterculture, rising against right-wing villains, sexuality, violence, and ambivalence toward human life.
Here, we have the man behind the transparent curtain, Steve Abnesti (Hemsworth), who runs the Spiderhead facility, named because of the sprawling look. It is a state-of-the-art prison studying the behaviors of its residents. Inmates volunteer to serve out their time there because it allows a bit more freedom, and they are fed the line that they will save the world. How? By being the rats in experiments by administering mind-altering drugs. Steve’s favorite prisoner is Jeff (Miles Teller). A man who calls and leaves a message with his ex-girlfriend every night. He develops feelings for Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), a fellow prisoner and the facility cook.
Steve and his assistant, Mark (another confusing part of the script is that they list his character as Verlaine, yet they call him Mark, which is the actor’s name), give various drugs to different residents and play them against social norms. They provide one of them with a drug that causes one to laugh when he hears about atrocities and massacres. A drug that makes a pair so sexually aroused that they would have hours of visceral sex despite not being attracted to each other. They even try to pair two heterosexuals to see the potential. The social experiments even go as far as basing it on Jeff’s sexual experiences with two women. They want to see which one he would give a painful mental drug called Darkenfloxx that will send one of them down a rabbit hole of mental health that one may not recover.
This all makes for an exciting premise, and combined with Hemsworth’s madcap performance and a killer soundtrack that is paired perfectly, the experience can be fun and full of promise. Except, I wouldn’t call the script convoluted; for every big swing that connects, there is one that misses badly. The big twist that Spiderhead is working towards is explained by a bingo card that is ridiculously eye-rolling. Do you mean to tell me that in this state-of-the-art facility, the biggest secrets aren’t kept under double-blind encrypted digital files on the computers? Still, in a leather notebook in a filing cabinet with a key, you can pick it up at ace hardware. Not to mention the stomach gag of “s**t-fingers” that will make even non-germophobes dry heave.
This type of movie needs to be remade instead of universal classics, yet the main issue with the film is it abandons the source work’s greatest scenes. Yes, the film was an entertaining ride for most of its run. Still, the third act’s problems overshadow big ideas, and a performance by Hemsworth is too much to ignore.
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