Imagine being sentenced to prison, but instead of serving your sentence in a traditional prison, you are given the opportunity to work in a program with more flexibility while helping the guard prevent crimes from being committed.
This is the premise of the sci-fi psychological thriller Spiderhead, which is based on a dystopian novel by George Saunders. The film is cleverly adapted from its source material by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who wrote Deadpool, and is competently directed by Joseph Kosinski, who helmed this summer’s Top Gun sequel.
The film stars Chris Hemsworth (MCU’s Thor) and Miles Teller in his second project with the director this year. Hemsworth plays a jailer who runs a research facility using transferred inmates as guinea pigs for experimental emotion-manipulating drugs.
Both the actors shine in their respective roles. Teller brings a nuanced performance of someone seeking redemption by wanting to do the right thing; the conflicting emotions in Teller’s performance are reminiscent of his performance in the movie “Whiplash”.
Hemsworth brings his trademark charisma and charm to a role that’s very different from anything he’s played in the past. He usually plays the hero, and in this he plays a narcissistic explorer with a god complex. It’s fun and highlights how much fun it is for actors when they get the chance to play an antagonist
But as with all psychological thrillers, there is something far more dangerous lurking deep beneath the surface. The further one gets into the story, the more the true nature of the characters begins to emerge and the dynamic – played ably by the lead actors – is a brilliant piece of work.
The cinematography is also quite impressive. The camera does a lot of showing the layout of the Spiderhead facility. The audience also gets quite a bit of visual exposition instead of relying on dialogue to just tell them things.
Joseph Trapanese’s music serves as an auditory narrator of sorts; Cues in the score help emphasize the isolation, trauma, and post-traumatic stress that the inmates experience while in the facility. The soundtrack—featuring such greats as Supertramp, the Doobie Brothers and Chuck Mangione—gives the film an absurd quality befitting its dystopian themes.
There are a few themes in particular that immediately stand out to the audience; for example, the idea of who is in control and the ideas of crime and punishment. At first you are not sure who is really in control, the jailer or the prisoners.
But this sense of control goes even deeper; many science fiction stories focus on the concept of overreliance on technology. Hemsworth’s character relies heavily on this, using his smartphone to control everything in the facility from the doors to the surgically implanted drug delivery systems embedded in the inmates’ backs. What happens when the phone breaks?
Overall, Spider Head is a cleverly written sci-fi story. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or the actors, you’ll enjoy this film and it will make you question the ethics practiced and flouted by the pharmaceutical industry.
“Spiderhead” is currently streaming on Netflix.
Garrett K. Jones is a local fantasy author. He currently has four books published in his ongoing series and produces a YouTube vlog and the Creator’s Corner podcast (available on Spotify, Google and Apple). www.archivesofthefivekingdoms.com/ IG/Twitter: @gkj_publishing
Feel free to contact him with suggestions for movie titles you’d like him to review.