By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Joseph Kosinski
- Starring Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Tess Haubrich
For those who don’t follow film production (aka normal people), Spiderhead is what we call the “low budget freebie”. Joseph Kosinski knew he basically had a free pass to make whatever movie he wanted after filming Top Gun: Maverick, a film that languished in post-production and pandemic delays before finally being released less then a month ago. In fact, it took so long to come out they he signed on to direct this sci-fi passion project that also fits in his wheelhouse of original, clinical science fiction similar to his work on Oblivion and even Tron: Legacy.
And it’s clinical alright! From even it’s premise, which involves the test subjects of a shady pharmaceutical drug that alters emotions, and it’s location, which is a remote facility out in the middle of nowhere. Kosinski might have been the only person who could directed this kind of film this way and with such finesse. For whatever issues it’s somewhat half-baked, tonally confused script has, it ultimately looks very good and Kosinski consistently shows that he has a flair for the precise. Just like our lead antagonist, it’s cold, calculating, and neutral.
Chris Hemsworth is in top form throughout this, using his trademark charisma and his natural affinity to comedy to play a deviously sociopathic visionary who only cares about the results. The dark humor laden script doesn’t have a ton of jokes that hit fully, but all the ones that due are thanks to Hemsworth just believing in the material fully. Teller is successful with his more dramatic bits, even if the film is more interested in it’s bigger ideas then getting us attached to these characters before it inevitably goes off the rails.
And while it has that dark comedy laden throughout, it never really meshes well with the actual material. The film is more effective as a straight thriller, one that plays with the literal senses as minds get distorted. The third act loses much of that momentum, devolving quickly into an action heavy final ten minutes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a lesser Black Mirror episode. This rushed conclusion also doesn’t give us enough time to really sit down the themes of control and human experimentation at the core of it’s thesis.
That being said, until then, it’s a fun time! The entire cast is clearly game, and it’s nice to see Kosinski really sit back and play with a singular environment for much of the runtime as opposed to the bigger, more bombastic blockbusters he’s known for. It’s rare we get good high concept sci-fi these days and while I don’t think Spiderhead is going to reinvent the wheel, it’s certainly better then most on the market right now.
I just wish there was more meat on it’s bones. It’s themes are fascinating but never fully explored, and within a week it’ll likely be forgotten in the realm of Netflix originals. And while Kosinski will surely move onto bigger and better things, this is a fun, if somewhat weak distraction in the meantime.