‘Spiderhead’: Netflix’s Newest Underwhelming High-Concept Sci-fi Thriller

Spiderhead (2022) is Netflix’s latest high-concept Sci-fi offering in the acts of Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, and Mark Paguio. The film is based on George SaundersEscape from Spiderhead, which is a short story published in The New Yorker in 2010. It was also directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, Top Gun: Maverick) and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the minds behind Deadpool (2016), and Zombieland (2009). With this tremendous cast and crew, Netflix’s budget, and a plot reminiscent of Black Mirror, needless to say, people were excited. However, given the exciting premise, I felt that the movie could’ve done much more and been much more thrilling.

Into the Spiderhead

Steve and Mark transporting Jeff to the island.
Steve and Mark transporting Jeff to the island.

Spiderhead is a Netflix original that was just released on June 11th. The film takes us through the journey of a prisoner inside Spiderhead, a state-of-the-art penitentiary. However, this isn’t just any prison, this place boasts itself as being a research facility for human emotions, using the prisoners as lab rats. Chris Hemsworth stars as Steve Abnesti, the pharmacologist behind it all. He injects prisoners with serums designed to make you sad, angry, in love, and more. Miles Teller plays Jeff, the man who wants to learn what’s really happening to him. This dystopian/lab research style isn’t the first of its kind, but it’s a concept that people often find very engaging… and initially, it was.

The movie throws you directly into it and begins experimenting on the protagonist. If you’ve watched many movies, especially dystopian ones, the plot and setup are pretty standard. By now, we’re used to the genre, it’s not new like Brave New World or 1984, so to be a great film, it really depends on the characters. And that, one of the most (if not the most) important aspects of the film is where this movie falls flat.

The main point about each character is their past. Jeff killed his friends while driving drunk, Lizzy accidentally killed her baby, and Steve was abandoned as a child. Although, Lizzy and Steve’s backstories are told through about one line and Jeff’s is through flashbacks, that doesn’t tell me nearly enough about how close everyone was. Aside from their past, the film is emotionless for much of the time as the prisoners need to be controlled in order to research emotions one at a time. Sadly, this results in a pretty boring time. That’s not to say that Jeff and Lizzy’s characters are uninteresting, but it’s kind of an issue when your snarky, sly villain is hogging the limelight. (I mean, it’s Chris Hemsworth, so it’s expected of a big star.)

The movie attempts to be philosophical and just barely succeeds, as its showcasing of forgiving yourself, finding yourself, and accepting your emotions are acceptable, but could’ve been stretched throughout the story instead of resolving every single thing in the last 10 minutes. All of this progress is completely shut down by an insane action-packed hasty ending.

Diverse… ish?

Lizzy and Jeff talk.
Lizzy and Jeff talk.

Given that the film takes place on a remote prison island with two white males as the lead; I didn’t go into this expecting anything. I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of POC side characters: Lizzy and Mark. The Asian and Black women representation is very welcome, but overall, they truly are just side characters, especially Mark. I don’t feel like the characters really had any negatives to them, they were just sort of plot-pushers with extremely brief backstories. So, while technically inclusive, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a win for diversity.

Final Thoughts

Steve contemplating.
Steve contemplating.

This movie’s plot is right up every Sci-fi lover’s alley, it just lacks something to take it to the extra mile. Perhaps, more character development? More action? More backstory to more than one character? Considering that it’s a bit over an hour and a half, and the story it’s based on a short story, it had to have been rough to lengthen it into a feature film. Due to lengthening it, they also had to divert from the actual story quite a bit, and even has a significantly different ending. It’s entertaining and did everything a movie should do, it just had a lot of wasted potential. Honestly, it would’ve been better to do the original story and make it only 30 minutes. Or, it could have been more action-packed as that’s what Kosinski is best at, or even lean the film more toward the horror genre. Altogether, it was a fun movie that simply fell flat on expectations, leaving it in the average movie ratings.


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