Spiderhead Movie Review & Summary
Review of Spiderhead Movie More science fiction films like Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” are needed. Not that they should be about the same thing, but there’s something to be said for watching a small ensemble experiment with human experience variables in a bizarre futuristic context.
“Spiderhead,” Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to last month’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” concurs, with its many parallels, including a mad scientist (played by a winking Chris Hemsworth) dancing to pop music. However, “Spiderhead’s” individual relevance is a greater issue, and it’s ultimately not quite as brilliant or eye-opening as it aspires to be.
“Spiderhead” imagines an alternative kind of prison system, one with an open-door policy that allows inmates to maintain their identity, cook for themselves, and exercise whenever they choose.
What they give up as punishment is their brain chemistry for science, which is tinkered with by Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), who is acting under the directives of a protocol committee trying to solve the world’s problems through dosing.
The prisoner has the option of taking an experimental dosage—approved by stating “Acknowledge”—and may be confronted with “Darkenfloxx’s” self-loathing or “Laffodil’s” overwhelming wish to laugh.
If Abnesti requires them to express themselves, he increases the dosage of “Verbaluce” (through a smartphone app).
These are odd names (taken from George Saunders’ short story Escape from Spiderhead, a first-person account that relies on casually flinging these phrases about), and it’s even stranger to see Hemsworth play this character.
One positive side effect of “Spiderhead” is that the performances can be potent on their own, but not when given a certain dosage.
Two of the key detainees, Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett, provide assured performances as Jeff and Lizzie, respectively.
Because they are both in prison for heinous acts of homicide, the prison has given them a shot at self-forgiveness.
It’s amusing, but it’s also telling how the movie’s dose scenes, these simulations that they bring to life by screaming, writhing on the couch, and occasionally feigning suicide, leave you cold.
The real process of Abnesti twisting them in different directions nearly becomes a conceit of a film that is straining its power, its hazy reason for being.
“Spiderhead,” based on Saunders’ short story but given a distinct stench by self-amused “Deadpool” screenwriters Rhett Rheese and Paul Wernick, strives for a disquieting quirkiness.
Abnesti isn’t your typical wicked genius, Spiderhead isn’t your typical prison, and this isn’t your typical talky sci-fi thriller.
Even the opening and closing credits are scrawled with pink chicken scratch, backed by a bouncy Supertramp tune that kicks off a soundtrack that straddles George Benson, Chuck Mangione, and Hall & Oates.
But whatever “Spiderhead” is giggling about, or attempting to sneak into its drama, isn’t shining brightly enough.
It’s initially intriguing to see Hemsworth play someone as disarming as he is manipulative, but he quickly becomes a heavy-handed embodiment of the film’s limited statements about science, power, and control.
He makes a stronger argument for being recast as someone who isn’t merely a “hot scientist with glasses” stereotype.
A lot of “Spiderhead” is built on the premise’s intrigue, which is teased by seeing Hemsworth push Teller through various treatments, forming a connection that the film uses as its light stakes.
It’s almost enough to make you forget that so little happens in the first 40 minutes that the more exploitative experiments carry little accumulated uneasiness. It’s easy to see how much a brief story had to be stretched out.
The concept of incarceration is as tangible as the structure that serves as the film’s titular prison, but “Spiderhead” seems to express more in its conception than in its execution.
It’s inspired by a desire to show how the American jail system may be more humane, but the plot’s bigger revelations about what’s really going on are as anti-surprising as they come.
The deception is worse than Jeff realizes, and the storyline accentuates the film’s empty nature with its easy pleasures (including a scene involving dropped keys to a secret drawer and a shoulder-shrug of a grand finale).
Even the ethics of incarceration have become toothless. It doesn’t want to upset the apple cart when it comes to the prison system, just as “Top Gun: Maverick” avoids confronting the truth about what fuels those jets.
Despite its promising beginnings, “Spiderhead” is a pseudo-heady sci-fi that treats its most intriguing features as an afterthought and misses the chance to be a memorable anomaly despite its flaws.