The dystopian sci-fi thriller has all the tools it needs to succeed, yet it falls short.
Filmmaker Joseph Kosinski recently released Spiderhead, which ironically also features scenes of a lead character flying a jet, just a few weeks after the premiere of Top Gun: Maverick. Spiderhead, however, is nothing like the former; instead, it is a dystopian sci-fi tale in the same style as Black Mirror and other such thrillers that we can currently watch, especially on Netflix.
Participants have to be a part of experiment
Spiderhead chronicles the lives of a prisoner named Jeff who is incarcerated at the Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Center, a unique facility on a remote island, and who is portrayed by Miles Teller, a mainstay of Kosinski’s work. The prison at Spiderhead is not like others. It contains prisoners who have chosen to reside in this facility, which has high-tech infrastructure resembling that of Norwegian jails. The single requirement set forth by the facility’s invisible governing body is that the inmates consent to taking part in medical research supervised by Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), the facility’s manager.
The purpose of these horrifying tests is to determine how effective medications are at affecting and inducing emotions. The inmates’ lower backs are attached with a gadget that contains vials of these medications and is operated by a programme on Steve’s smartphone.
Observing how these medications cause the prisoners to experience a particular emotion is both beguiling and perplexing. The “love drug” luvactin (also known as N-40) makes people find the beauty in everything. While Laffodil (G-46) makes one laugh out loud, Verbaluce (B-15) increases one’s eloquence. The movie’s main conflict occurs when Jeff, a participant in the Luvactin experiment, sees an inmate die after receiving a lethal injection. He starts to be wary of Steve’s behaviour and wonders if the goal of these trials is really to benefit humanity.
In the movie’s opening scene, Steve gives the Laffodil medication to Ray (Stephen Tongun), a prisoner who starts to laugh when he hears one-liners and puns. Ray is unaffected by the jokes’ deteriorating quality, and he finally starts laughing at depressing truths like genocide. It’s a wise writing decision to use Laffodil to introduce us to this universe. The dark atmosphere is immediately established, hinting at the dangers that these substances may present while also keeping a secret of the film’s eventual trump cards.
The plot in Spiderhead was driven by the characters, according to authors Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. As the narrative goes on, it becomes clear that Jeff’s life took a turn for the worst after a freak drunk driving accident that claimed the lives of those closest to him. His sole escape from the weight of guilt and grief was Spiderhead; Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), a fellow prisoner he has affections for, is the only light at the end of his dark tunnel. Surprisingly, the backstory of the movie’s adversary is just briefly mentioned, and Spiderhead depends on the emotional undercurrents between these damaged people who are made to live in small spaces.Mark (Mark Paguio), Steve’s helper, is a wonderful addition to the supporting cast of people. One of the more honourable people in this world is Mark, whose efforts to help humanity get him into trouble. The character serves a meaningful purpose in the development of the story and defies the stereotype of the cliched sidekick to the wicked supervillain. The writing of Lizzy is what leaves something to be desired. Her backstory is barely mentioned, and she is reduced to nothing more than a plot device to persuade Jeff to make a significant jump when he already had plenty of motivation to do so in the third act.
Blame it on other new-age sci-fi dystopian films like Love, Death, and Robots and Black Mirror, but Spiderhead’s opening scenes have an air of impending drama and a big clash at the conclusion. As one might anticipate, there is a twist, but it is so clichéd and predictable. It’s unfortunate when a movie doesn’t employ all the tools at its disposal, and Spiderhead had a lot of promise for a spectacular third act despite having a tiny geographical area and a small cast. Additionally, there is an abrupt tonal change near the conclusion that leaves a bad aftertaste.
The perfect music
On the plus side, Spiderhead’s music is a key takeaway. Like the medications given, every track sounds new from beginning to end, and there is music to suit every mood. Hemsworth seemed to be having a blast on stage as a super-cool, tech-savvy bad boy who gets high off his own supplies and brazenly manipulates the prisoners. Considering that these films constitute new ground for both actors, Hemsworth and Teller have both done these tough roles properly. If only their efforts had resulted in a better movie, the parts might have defined their careers. However, it appears that this movie was created for a group of people who had consumed a vial of Luvactin and a hint of Laffodil.
On Netflix, you can watch Spiderhead.