Spiderhead Is Cerebral, No Top Gun: Maverick

Chris Hemsworth as Abnesti in Spiderhead. Courtesy of Netflix. © 2022

It’s not often that filmmakers will deliver one of the biggest hits and duds of the summer but Spiderhead is the latter after Top Gun.

In fairness, it is hot as hell outside and the excessive heat no doubt impacted my own viewing experience. Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up will play better for cerebral viewers. If you’re a fan of George Saunders, maybe you’ll fare better than me. It’s not much of an action film the film moves into its final half hour. If you’re expecting a comical Chris Hemsworth, I’m sorry to inform you that you’ll be disappointed.

Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth)–who could fit  anywhere in Silicon Valley–runs a state-of-the-art penitentiary known only as Spiderhead. All of the inmates wear devices that administer doses of mind-altering drugs. In doing so, they can get a shortened sentence. It’s not your traditional prison. Nobody is in a jail cell nor are they wearing the usual jumpsuits. Basically, they have the free will to do whatever. Well, aside from how the drugs impact their mind, They could be laughing one minute and doing something else the next. This film focuses on two of the prison’s subjects in particular, Jeff (Miles Teller) and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett). In short, Steve starts to see just how far the drugs will go. But once Jeff and LIzzy team up, there’s no telling what’s going to happen.

Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adapt the ten-page Escape from Spiderhead–written by George Saunders–into an almost two hour feature film. As such, they create new characters and expand on the short story’s ideas. The film doesn’t quite fall into sci-fi territory despite what’s happening in front of viewers on the screen. It plays more into the psychological thriller side of things and maybe it was the heat but it didn’t feel like much of a thriller until the final half hour.

Musically, the film has what you might call a “yacht rock” soundtrack. Depending on your musical tastes, the soundtrack might be one of the best parts about the film. Visually, the film takes advantage of the pandemic in terms of production design. Interestingly enough, there are no windows in Spiderhead outside of one room. They would fit right in on any weather team as a result! Claudio Miranda’s cinematography also pays homage to the late Stanley Kubrick.

Kosinski reteams with Only the Brave and Top Gun: Maverick actor Miles Teller for the third time. However, this film is unable to capture the same magic. When it comes to directing Hemsworth, he’s certainly not Taika Waititi and doesn’t get the comical performance out of him. Maybe audience members have been spoiled in watching Hemsworth play Thor since 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. But then again, maybe that’s just it? I’ve spent this pandemic watching MCU movies for comfort that I’m just used to watching Hemsworth as the Asgardian superhero.

Spiderhead is a very cerebral movie and not for everyone.

DIRECTOR: Joseph Kosinski
SCREENWRITERS: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Mark Paguio, Tess Haubrich, Angie Milliken, Stephen Tongun

Netflix launches Spiderhead on June 17, 2022. Grade: 2.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.