Spiderhead Review


PLOT: In the near future, a group of convicts volunteer to be guinea pigs in a pharmaceutical testing facility run by a charismatic scientist (Chris Hemsworth). While they’ll get to live in relative comfort, they’ll be forced to participate in manipulative, dangerous experiments that put their lives and sanity at stake.

REVIEW: Top Gun: Maverick is burning up box office records worldwide, and its director, Joseph Kosinski, is riding high. But, rather than bask in the movie’s success, Kosinski’s got another film coming up, with Netflix premiering his latest, Spiderhead, later this week. Shot during the height of Covid-19, Spiderhead, by necessity, is a chamber piece. The cast is tiny, and the film is dialogue rather than action-driven, but it’s a fun, well-shot genre flick that’s more cerebral than you’d expect. It offers star Chris Hemsworth a chance to branch out beyond his action hero bonafides and works as a solid star vehicle for Kosinski regular Miles Teller.

Hemsworth plays the overseer of a penal colony where he conducts radical experiments using pharmaceuticals he hopes will transform the world. The drugs range from the innocuous, such as “lafodill,” which makes its users laugh uncontrollably, to the more dangerous, such as one that can make even the most random object a spectre of pure fear for whoever is unlucky enough to get dosed. There’s even one drug that, if you take it, literally drives you insane and almost always leads to suicide.

spiderhead review

The main thing Hemsworth is testing is whether or not these drugs will make people do what he says, and in that vein, he’s got a set of prisoners he can treat as lab rats. While they get to live in comfort on a picturesque Island, they never know from one day to the next what kind of experiment they’ll be involved in. One day they may be forced to have sex with another prisoner; the other they may be asked to inflict pain.

Enter Miles Teller, who plays our hero. He’s riddled with guilt after having killed his best friend in a drunken auto wreck. He submits to Hemsworth’s experiments without protest until he starts to develop feelings for Jurnee Smollett’s character, who’s also imprisoned. While Spiderhead isn’t the tentpole action flick you might expect from Kosinski, it’s nevertheless an interesting sci-fi outing. It feels like a feature-length, big-budget Black Mirror episode with A-list stars, and I mean that in a good way. It’s gorgeously shot on the Gold Coast in Australia by DP Claudio Miranda, who also shot Top Gun: Maverick. It has a really good score by Joseph Trapanese, and in a unique twist, it’s packed with wall-to-wall yacht rock, which is the genre of music Hemsworth’s character is obsessed with. Thus, you get chase scenes scored by songs as random as Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” and Herb Alpert’s “Rise.” It’s a fun flourish that Kosinski makes the most of.

Spiderhead is well written by Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (who we also interviewed), with strong character development throughout. Underneath the style, there’s a solid message about how, as people, we’re better than our worst mistakes, even if that’s a message our increasingly fraught cancel culture doesn’t always embrace. Teller and Smollett are very likeable as the leads, both of whom have done terrible things they sorely regret, and by the time the climax comes, it’s easy to root for them to get a second chance. Meanwhile, Hemsworth has an absolute ball chewing the scenery. There’s no action for him in this one, save for a quick scrap with Teller towards the end, but it’s not that kind of movie. Spiderhead allows him to stretch, and it adds up to an entertaining little programmer that’s a perfect flick to dig into on Netflix. Again, it’s not Top Gun: Maverick, but it’s another solid effort for Kosinski, who, with each movie, seems to be getting better and better.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.