Spiderhead certainly doesn’t lack when it comes to its talent. Not only does it have the help of director Joseph Kosinski – fresh off his recent success of Top Gun: Maverick – it also sees Deadpool writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick adapting a short story from The New Yorker. Despite that pedigree, this film leaves far too much to be desired. While intriguing at first, it made me feel absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Based on George Saunders’ Escape from Spiderhead, this film takes place in a rather unconventional prison. The criminals can wear their own clothes, have nice snacks, and play video games. However, this is at the cost of having to participate in mood-changing drug trials. Running the drug trials is Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), and our main characters are prisoners Jeff (Miles Teller) and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett). And each one appears to lead off in its own direction as far as the story goes.
There is no cohesion, no effort made to provide a semblance of a story. There are three different points where the story veers off from where you think it might go. It is a true mess, one that doesn’t get better by the “plot twists” as they occur. It is not even a true adaptation, with the ending of the film veering widely off the source material. Instead of Reese & Wernick trying to make a thought-provoking film, they tried to place in as much action as they could, and it fails miserably.
The film characterizes Steve as a narcissist, and rightfully so. Hemsworth does a phenomenal job working the character with what he has. Too bad his efforts are absolutely wasted, as is Smollett’s. For a character that has no basis in the short story, her inclusion is a breath of fresh air. Similar to her portrayal of Dinah Lance in Birds of Prey, Smollett shines every minute on screen. The small cast, as well as a closed setting, help Spiderhead drastically.
Average films are one thing. But then there are average films that blow your mind because of how many people decided this was ready to go. For the number of quality films we have nowadays, and with Netflix floating in the red, they should choose better films to put out. Smollett and Hemsworth truly are saving graces to the little credibility that remains for me in terms of this film. Hopefully, with the success Kosinski had with Top Gun: Maverick, he’ll be able to have his pick of projects. – Katie Rentschler
Spiderhead is streaming on Netflix now.