We are waiting for more sci-fi movies built like Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina.” Not that they should be about the same subject or same story, but there should be a fruitful appeal in watching the film with a limited cast. “Spiderhead” the latest film from Joseph Kosinski after last month’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” is the film we are waiting for because with its many similarities it even has its mad scientist played by Chris Hemsworth grooving to pop music. But the individual significance of “Spiderhead” is a larger issue, and it’s ultimately not nearly as clever or eye-opening as it dreams of being.
Inspired by the short story by Saunders but given a distinct stench by self-amused “Deadpool” screenwriters Rhett Rheese and Paul Wernick, “Spiderhead” strives for a disquieting quirkiness. This film was exclusively produced for Netflix.
The premise involves a near-future penitentiary that doesn’t require any bars since the inmates are controlled and given the run of the place in exchange for wearing surgically implanted devices that let their keepers control them through mind-altering drugs.
Still, it becomes painfully clear almost immediately that the facility’s proprietor, Steve (Hemsworth, whose “Thor” physique is effectively hidden through his wardrobe), is using this space-age innovation to experiment on his charges, employing the tools of a fast-talking salesman to convince them to “honor our arrangement” and that this system is all to their benefit.
A lot of “Spiderhead” relies on the curiosity of its premise, which is teased by watching Hemsworth push Teller through different procedures, creating a friendship that this movie treats as its light stakes. It’s almost enough to make you not realize that so little happens in the first 40 minutes that the experiments—which become more and more manipulative—hardly have a cumulative unease. It becomes apparent how much a short story must have been stretched out.
Director Joseph Kosinski had time while “Maverick” sat on the shelf to go out and direct this relatively small-boned, almost claustrophobic movie, although with that film still registering big theatrical receipts, it’s hard to imagine his handlers would have chosen this low-key dud — written by “Deadpool’s” Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick but exhibiting little of that franchise’s rambunctious energy — for his next project.
For Netflix, the enticing mix of elements in “Spiderhead” — a truly lousy title, incidentally, the marketability of arachnids notwithstanding — is probably enough to vault the movie into its most-popular tier, which can surely be hailed as some kind of victory by the criteria that the service uses to keep score.
The cast of “Spiderhead”:
- Chris Hemsworth as Abnesti
- Jurnee Smollett as Lizzy
- Miles Teller as Jeff
- Mark Paguio as Verlaine
- Tess Haubrich as Heather
- Ben Knight as Clyde
Director of “Spiderhead”:
- Joseph Kosinski
Writers of “Spiderhead”:
- Rhett Reese(screenplay by)
- George Saunders(based on the short story “Escape from Spiderhead” by)
- Paul Wernick(screenplay by)
“Spiderhead” premieres June 17 on Netflix. It’s rated R.