Spiderhead Synopsis: Two inmates (Miles Teller and 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.
A reckless mogul tests a new breed of emotion-driving drugs on disgraced convicts in Spiderhead. As a Netflix production, Spiderhead marks another attempt at diversifying the streamer’s original movie library. The studio continues taking dice rolls at creating contemporary cinema for viewers to enjoy from the comfort of their homes.
Aside from their more auteur-driven fare, most of these attempts have ironically felt like bargain bin iterations of their big-screen predecessors. Between lackluster blockbusters (The Adam Project) and ill-conceited Oscar hopefuls (Don’t Look Up), Netflix’s recent output showcases a studio half-heartedly aping the patterns of their theatrical counterparts.
Spiderhead sadly fits right in that generic mold. Acting as the studio’s attempt at high-concept science fiction works like Ex Machina, Spiderhead lacks the artistry and thematic consciousness to say much of note with its intriguing premise.
I can’t say I am too surprised that Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick struggle to unearth substantive textures from their dystopian premise. The two create an odd convergence of sensibilities. Part of Spiderhead wants to reckon with the ramifications of tech giants turning a disenfranchised populous into their guinea pigs. Other aspects just want to appease the basic conventions of a sci-fi thriller.
Spiderhead traverses through this divide without nailing either tonality. The script feels woefully paper-thin, reducing the premise’s relevant conceits into window dressing for its dystopian setting. There are certainly ideas to ruminate on here, but Wernick and Reese seem more interested in peddling forward a familiar piece of high-concept entertainment.
In its pulpy form, there are elements of Spiderhead that work. Chris Hemsworth makes for an equally menacing and transfixing presence as the eccentric billionaire running hapless prisoners through a gamut of demoralizing tests. While Hollywood remains deadest on Hemsworth as a conventional leading man, it’s often the performances that transform his charismatic energy into underlying wickedness that prove most effective (Bad Times at El Royale).
It’s a shame none of the film’s other facets are as creatively-formed or deranged as Hemsworth’s performance. Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski excels at capturing grand scale and enthralling setpieces – two skills that don’t necessarily fit the close-quarters confines of his latest project. Kosinski ultimately creates a competent yet sterile visual aesthetic, a conventionally-formed sensibility that fails to unearth the palpable tensions resting under the surface of each uncomfortable moment.
The narrative is similarly beige. Outside of Hemsworth’s maniacal edge, there is nothing for viewers to remember. Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett deliver competent performances, but both are straddled with roles that rest below their abilities. The plot also falters at igniting intrigue, articulating a basic three-act structure that rarely stretches from familiar formula.
Promise aside, Spiderhead ultimately descends into a been-there-done-that foray into science fiction mechanics. If Netflix wants to remain the top dog in the streaming wars, they must be willing to take more creative risks with its material.