Most people look forward to watching films whose main goal is to entertain. Most actually do. There are some movies however that come in from time to time that doesn’t necessarily just provide mindless entertainment but instead are mental exercises that need more concentration and processing afterward than others. This is the case for Netflix’s newest film, Spiderhead. It’s a film that is very much intellectual in nature but one that also faces its own set of problems. Read our full review below of Spiderhead to find out more.
Spiderhead in truth provides a very intriguing background, storyline, and even a stellar cast and crew. First and foremost, it is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who just came from his hugely successful film, Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the 1986 film. He reunites with Miles Teller in Spiderhead alongside Chris Hemsworth who surprisingly portrays the antagonist in this film, the mysterious Steve Abnesti — while also serving as one of the film’s producers.
What makes Spiderhead all the more intriguing is that the story is based on the dystopian short story “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders. The film is set primarily in the titular Spiderhead compound which is also a state-of-the-art penitentiary wherein test subjects, who are technically prisoners of the state, volunteer for an experiment which in turn reduces their sentence time. These inmates are given chemicals that amplify certain feelings, depending on the drug being tested. Some of the drugs shown include N-40/Luvactin, a love drug; G-46/Laffodil, a drug that induces uncontrollable laughter; I-16/Darkenfloxx an agitator drug; and I-27/Phobica which intensifies a person’s fears, just to name a few.
The institution is run by the seemingly sympathetic and hospitable Steve Abnesti(Hemsworth) and his assistant Mark, portrayed by Mark Paguio as they specifically run tests on Jeff (Teller). Everything is however complicated when Jeff starts to grow an attachment to a fell inmate by the name of Lizzy, played by June Smollett. Jeff slowly discovers the truth behind the entire operation. Jeff soon realizes that there is more to Spiderhead and Abnesti than what meets the eye.
Spiderhead Review: Spoiler Warnings
Our review of Spiderhead will tackle mostly the mind-boggling nature of the story’s plot as well as the character development and acting chops of the principal cast members. This review of Spiderhead will therefore be, by all means, spoiler-free.
As mentioned, Spiderhead requires a lot of thinking — and we mean tons of it. It’s not the kind of film that you can see while doing other things simultaneously. It requires your full undivided attention. The way everything flows is very much an intellectual exercise and in the same manner, is quite heavy to digest at times. It is clear from how the film is laid out and develops, that the story contains a lot of propagandistic-like elements and serves as an introspection of the society that we live in. It mirrors the very world we have today in a very dystopian way. It has the makings of the depth found in George Orwell’s 1984 with a touch of modernity from stories like The Circle by Dave Eggers. In terms of films, the film resembles the mental exercise that Christopher Nolan films bring us such as Momento, Inception, and Tenet. Spiderhead is a film that is filled with hidden agendas, twists, turns, and symbolism but sadly the execution negates all of the potential success that it could have had.
Spiderhead, therefore, is a film that is very much an ambitious plan or blueprint but doesn’t really take off in the right direction. There’s a lot of promise, don’t get me wrong but I honestly believe that it didn’t live up to the supposed hype that it set up for viewers. The cast mostly brought everything together while being entangled in a story and direction that really didn’t provide a long-lasting impact. This is where Spiderhead sadly makes the transition from just being mentally grueling to an all-out frustrating experience. It’s a film that just becomes exhausting while at the same time creating a mood and tone that fails to provide any glimmer of excitement.
The story as mentioned features several twists and turns. I personally haven’t read the short story that the film is based on but I personally found it to be badly written and unexciting. Then again I also have an inkling that this fell down to the execution. The twists were perfectly timed for the most part but it really didn’t provide a moment of shock and awe. There was a level of predictability to them as well which was all thanks to the obvious manner that which the story progressed. There also seemed to be an insertion of graphic scenes for the sake of doing so. It wasn’t that they were irrelevant to the story but most felt like a forceful way to bring gore, sex, and explicit scenes that may have been done to draw in a specific group of viewers — while also becoming a repellant for others.
A Story of Good Versus Evil?
A typical story as we have come to know often features a tension and battle between good and evil. This film purposely blurs the lines of the concept and therefore builds a story that questions morality. At the center of the story is the relationship between Abnesti and Jeff. Jeff is the obvious candidate for someone whose morality can be questioned — he is after all a convict and criminal in the eyes of the state. Abnesti on the other hand tries to carry himself as the Savior with humble and upright intentions. The film symbolically destroys the perception of what good and evil truly are by placing these two men whose outer appearances and circumstances mean one thing but morally are more different than what they appear to be. Spiderhead, therefore, breaks the notions of criminals and supposedly righteous people by combining them in a setting and mixing up their intentions and actions to once again blur the lines of morality.
This premise, however, gets lost in the way due to predictability, and once again poor execution gets in the way. The redeeming factor to it all comes in the form of the Teller-Hemsworth tandem. These two actors don’t just come in with their big names to lift up the film’s status although it does seem to have had that impact as well. Their acting chops are truly highlighted and showcased once again. Hemsworth delivers a performance that does not rely on action scenes alone just as he does so often with his other roles but rather is able to deliver an emotionally maniacal and villainous performance that is truly a breath of fresh air for the actor. Miles Teller on the other hand is an actor that we must keep our eyes on. His performances time and time again honestly continue to amaze me. In my opinion, he is even one of the most underrated actors to date and one that is sure to rise even more as he gives his everything in each performance.
Spiderhead Review: Final Verdict
Spiderhead has a lot of promise. Sadly execution-wise it doesn’t really get to the level that it aimed for. It’s a B movie at best despite the powerhouse cast members such as Hemsworth and Teller. It suffers in poor execution despite having a story and initial direction that was honestly very intriguing. It is a film that rests in the middle of being something worthwhile to watch and one that is skip-worthy altogether. It boils down to preference I guess and but we do urge you not to get your hopes up on Spiderhead too much as these expectations may just leave you disappointed in the end.
Hype Meter: 5/10
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