Director Joseph Kosinski reunites with actor Miles Teller for their third collaboration in Netflix’s Spiderhead. The screenwriting duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick pen the film’s script based on the dystopian short story “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders. In a state-of-the-art penitentiary run by brilliant visionary Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), inmates wear a surgically attached device that administers dosages of mind-altering drugs in exchange for commuted sentences.
There are no bars, no cells, or orange jumpsuits. In Spiderhead, incarcerated volunteers are free to be themselves or until they are not. At times, they are a better version. Need to lighten up? There is a drug for that. At a loss for words? There is a drug for that, too. But when two subjects, Jeff (Miles Teller) and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), form a connection, their path to redemption takes a twister turn as Abnesti’s experiments start to push the limits of free will altogether.
I had moderate expectations when I hit play on Spiderhead. Joseph Kosinski has impressed me with his previous films, including the current highest-grossing US film for 2022, Top Gun: Maverick. Not to mention, I always enjoy seeing Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett on screen. In addition, it is always great to see Chris Hemsworth go somewhat against type. Finally, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s previous screenplays include the Deadpool and Zombieland films.
Unfortunately, Spiderhead is a small blotch of the impressive filmography of the cast and crew. The potential is there for a good film as director Joseph Kosinski’s first two films, Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, dabble in dystopia. Miles Teller has a natural screen presence, as do Chris Hemsworth and Jurnee Smollett. You believe their interactions whenever Teller is in a scene with Hemsworth or Smollett.
Therein lies the problem, as sonically, the film does not know the overall tone it wants to take. On the one hand, the filmmakers could have gone for balls-to-the-wall comedy with small notches of science fiction. However, in the press notes for the film, the director did not want to necessarily label the film as sci-fi because “everything in the film could be happening today.
I will say that if the film had perhaps focused solely on Hemsworth and his motivations, the result might have more cohesion. In the scenes where Hemsworth is grooving to eighties, pop tunes are some of the film’s better moments. There is also some notable character development in the characters of Jeff and Lizzy that pay off when we learn why they ended up in prison.
In the end, though, there was not anything particularly memorable about the film. When the credits rolled, a quote by Honore de Balzac came to mind. “Laws are spider-webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.”
Final Grade: C-
Spiderhead is available to stream on Netflix
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