Matthew Bowden, Screen Editor, delves into why Spiderhead ultimately disappoints and fails to live up to its potential.
Fresh off the barnstorming success of Top Gun: Maverick, Joseph Kosinski and Miles Teller combine again for Spiderhead: Netflix’s latest toe-dip into the world of feature films. Teller plays Jeff, a prisoner serving time for manslaughter, who has traded the mundanity of gen pop in favour of volunteering as a drug-test subject at the state-of-the-art Spiderhead facility, overseen by Chris Hemsworth’s Dr. Steve Abnesti. The prisoners are afforded unmatched freedoms and luxuries, yet the catch is they are effectively pawns for the cause of medical and societal research, variously coming under the influence of drugs with funny sounding names, like “Lovactin” and “Verbaluce”, which are imprinted onto them in the form of a MobiPack.
The film aims for a cerebral contemplation on human emotions and their psychological malleability, akin to something like Alex Garland’s thought-provoking Ex-Machina, but doesn’t come close to fulfilling the potential of its premise. The story is loosely adapted from a satirical short “Escape from Spiderhead”, with a script penned by Deadpool duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Despite their previous successes, their presence here feels like tonal cross-contamination.
Despite [Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick] previous successes, their presence here feels like tonal cross-contamination
Concepts of prisoner manipulation and agency that are teased out during the first 30 minutes are later eschewed for half-hearted attempts at comedic interjections; a lot of which end up falling flat. The dynamic between Abnesti and his guinea pigs is interesting, especially in the face of a revelation regarding the extent of his involvement in the project, yet the film appears more concerned with an uncompelling bourgeoning romance between Jeff and fellow inmate Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), delving into backstories that distract from the central thread.
Kosinski fully loses us during the finale, which descends into a silly, frenetic escape sequence. Hemsworth’s performance is somewhat of a redeeming feature, resembling a Duracell Bunny of geniality in a desperate attempt to inject Spiderhead with some kind of life. But he can’t quite carry it on his shoulders. With the talent on show both on and off screen, it’s undoubtedly an opportunity wasted.