Netflix’s dystopian sci-fi mystery-adventure black comedy is a high-concept dystopian sci-fi mystery-adventure black comedy (gasp, pant) Spiderhead is a mash-up of styles and talent (as you’ve probably observed). Top Gun: Maverick and Whiplash star Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, director Joseph Kosinski (whose career just whoa-nelly super-duper peaked with Top Gun: Maverick), and Deadpool/Deadpool 2 screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (adapting a short story by bestselling author George Saunders) are among the cast members. Of course, all of this creative energy isn’t guaranteed to result in something beautiful or coherent, as I’ll explain shortly.
Steve Abnesti (Hemsworth) is a pharmaceutical scientist who is working on little vials of coloured liquid that can be used to modify or change people’s moods and emotions. The drugs are administered via a small, not particularly utopian battery-pack thingy at the base of the spine; one swipe of Steve’s phone and a body is euphorically laughing at mass death, or overwhelmed with such love and lust that it can’t help but schtup the living tar out of the other person in the room (hopefully who is also on the same drug; we don’t see it happen any other way, thankfully). Steve’s setup is as follows: For himself, his helper (Mark Paguio), and a slew of condemned convicts, a large concrete bunker-base by the sea serves as a housing and testing facility.
Jeff is our main character (Teller). We get access to his flashbacks, which depict a drunken and fiery vehicle accident. He sits across from Heather (Tess Haubrich) in the experiment-o-lab in one scene. They are asked to rate each other’s beauty on a scale of one to ten. They get a dose of Verbaluce when they don’t say much, and the superlatives pour. After that, they get some Luvactin, which is followed by some crazy coitus. When Steve lowers the juice, his subjects stop spooning postcoitally and rush to get dressed, feeling awkward and embarrassed. Jeff takes a more genuine, less transient interest in fellow inmate Lizzy (Smollett), who is a fantastic cook and reciprocates part of his emotional devotion, despite the fact that the circumstances doesn’t seem appropriate for romance.
In this circumstance, there are two interesting snags. For starters, the experimentees can’t take part in Steve’s crazy scientist nonsense unless they first give their approval. And two, the same applies for a peculiar psychological game Steve sets up, in which he pairs up two inmates who have been heavily Luvactin’d, and tells Jeff to choose which one receives Darkenfloxx. Jeff would prefer that no one ever gets Darkenfloxx since he’s had it before and it truly floxxes you out, placing you in an awful traumatised state that’s a white-hot mix of anguish, despair, and wrath. I’m not sure why someone would create such a medication, but hey, that’s why I’m not a scientist and just a film critic prepared to kick this one in the ribs.
What Movies can you relate to Spiderhead?
Spiderhead features a drug trial plot (Netflix’s Maniac, uh, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), a chilling dystopia (Gattaca) in an isolated rich-guy bunker (Ex Machina), a cheeseball ’80s soundtrack (also Weird Science), and a failure to congeal many ideas into a high-concept dark comedy (also Weir (Downsizing comes to mind).
Smollett is the effervescent presence Spiderhead could use a lot more of, between Hems as an obnoxious, overcaffeinated sociopath and Tells as a bland protag. “There was a time when crossing lines was a lot of lines ago,” says a memorable dialogue. – Nonetheless, Steve seemed to be unconcerned by it. Sex and Skin: “Comedic” frenzied sex routines that sound far more graphic than they actually are.