Spiderhead Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
With material as twisted as the Black Mirror series, the trailer for this thriller promised a cerebral puzzle. Instead, the audience was served with a mediocre story with a lacklustre ending.
Genre: Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Tess Haubrich, Mark Paguio, Angie Milliken, Stephen Tongun & BeBe Bettencourt.
Run Time: 107 min.
US Release: 17 June 2022 (Netflix)
UK Release: 17 June 2022 (Netflix)
German Release: 17 June 2022 (Netflix)
Spiderhead was on my list to watch, since I saw the trailers in early June, guaranteeing it to be possibly a new type of mystery sci-fi, a-la Annihilation or Arrival. Having watched this and Top Gun: Maverick back to back, it staggers me how the same director could have produced such different types of film in quality. While I absolutely loved Maverick, this Netflix production left me cold, unsatisfied, even a little bit betrayed. So put on your reading glasses, as I will explain why Kosinski’s sci-fi thriller disappointed me so much. Set in a futuristic world, a state-of-the-art prison that is run by a brilliant pharmaceutical visionary uses mind-altering drugs to experiment on its inmates. Two prisoners find each other and must not only face their past but combat the strange things happening at the facility, at the same time. The story was adapted from a dystopian short story, written by George Saunders and published in the New Yorker. Praised by the New York Times to be one of the best reads of 2013, “Escape from Spiderhead” had the potential to be morphed into an interesting cerebral sci-fi flick, to the likes of Ex Machina, yet what we obtained is the exact contrary. While the movie starts off with a promising, intriguing introduction, the plot quickly deflates, turning into one of the most subpar science-fiction thrillers I have seen in years.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of brilliance in the script, for one the contained setting benefits the narrative, as it builds tension plus unease. Then there is the fact that writers Reese and Wernick kept up the intrigue for most of the first half of its runtime. The problem is that there is no real pay-off, no mind-twist or originality. The story follows a standard formula, switching the ending of Saunders’ tale, into something upsettingly bland. The biggest flaw here is Netflix’s fear as of late, to try something bold and new, due to declining subscriptions or cancellations.
The dialogue between people is good enough, keeping the viewer engaged with the characters, but just as with the plot, it is mostly standard talks between two persons, nothing the common audience hasn’t heard or seen before. There is a good portion of black comedy in it, that draws out a smile every so often.
Miles Teller as Jeff, an inmate of Spiderhead Penitentiary, is the most appealing character. Interestingly written, Jeff’s past simply doesn't let him forgive himself, constantly beating himself up and convincing himself that he deserves to be where he is; thinking that being tested upon like a guinea pig with experimental drugs, will absolve him of his past. Teller captured this well, giving a convincing as well as likeable performance alike.
Chris Hemsworth is completely miscast as Steve Abnesti, the charming yet deviant lead scientist of Spiderhead. Hemsworth does have his amazing moments, selling the “wolf in sheep's skin” mentality that is his character but ultimately doesn’t persuade as Abnesti, being too charismatic and too good in shape, to be pressed into the suits he always wears. The character was also given a background story, trying to create empathy within the audience, however, that also fails as it feels too forced.
Jurnee Smollett plays Lizzy, Jeff’s love interest, who has a similar history and thought process as him. Sadly the audience only gets told about that by the end of the third act, too late to really care for the character’s past. Smollett gives a good recital but doesn’t get to shine, as her screen time is severely limited. Mark Paguio as Abnesti’s assistant Mark, also gets little screen time, leading to the fact that his redemption arc has barely any emotional effect on the viewers. Mark starts doubting the ethics of their work, opening up interesting concepts that never get explored.
The combination of cinematography with set design might be this film's highlight! Cinematographer Claudio Miranda delivered one of the best-looking pictures, with superb lighting and colour, as well as a crystal clear look that could have been worthy for theatres. The contained setting inside the high-tech prison not only works to induce a feeling of being trapped, it also contains different facets itself; the clean, sterile, concrete room of the control rooms sucked of any emotion. Then there are the warmer, wooden panelled rooms for inmates. Finally, the loft, with a beautiful mountain and ocean view, is an open panorama for the directors of the company.
The soundtrack consists of a mix of original score, composed by Joseph Trapanese, and songs from the late 70s early 80s. The score itself is rather unimpressive and forgetful.
Verdict: Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, together with director Kosinski plus Netflix as a studio missed an opportunity to create a fascinating, original cerebral sci-fi thriller. The short story this flick was based on had it all but it was squandered. The tone and setting are different enough to create an interesting mystery, nonetheless, the narrative follows a basic standard path, leading to an unsatisfactory end. The dialogues contain enough humour to make one smirk, yet are also mostly trivial. Miles Teller gives a fine performance; his chemistry with Jurnee Smollett is good enough to make their interest in one another believable, however, Smollett’s talent is wasted by the short screen time. Chris Hemsworth, while being charming and giving a good enough rendition, seems rather miscast as Abnesti. In the end, this is a movie best saved for a rainy day, though even then, I would recommend going to see Top Gun: Maverick in cinemas instead. Spiderhead obtains a 6.5 out of 10.
Have you seen this new Netflix release? Let me know what you thought. Thank you very much for reading!