Spiderhead is a generic redemption story stripped of its source material’s wit and chilling introspection.
On a remote island somewhere is Spiderhead Penitentiary, a research lab where criminals are used as human guinea pigs to test chemicals. They can alter a person’s emotions or perception of their surroundings, with cutesy prescription names such as Verbaluce™ (a drug that can enhance one’s vocabulary) and Luvactin™ (a drug that can make you fall in love with someone).
As disturbing as this may sound, the facility’s residents live a more comfortable life than your average prisoner.
There’s an open-door policy, where prisoners have unrestricted access to Mr. Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), the overseer of the research program. The drugs he’s testing are administered through a MobiPak™, a unit surgically joined in the prisoners’ lower back containing the vials. They’re personally managed by Mark (Mark Paguio), an assistant whose good intentions are in the wrong place.
There are state-of-the-art facilities. Three-time BBQ brisket recipe champion Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett) makes the snacks in a well-stocked pantry. She and the other prisoners each have their chores and rooms. All prisoners can roam the facility unsupervised.
Even the daily tests aren’t that bad. The prisoners have the chance to reduce their jail time by engaging in human trials by saying “acknowledge”.
All prisoners comply, including Jeff (Miles Teller), whose too guilty to question orders. This mostly involves fucking random prisoners in a room with a one-way mirror, with Abnesti and Mark on the other side watching.
There are several changes but the central premise is intact, adapted from Escape from Spiderhead, a short story by George Saunders from The New Yorker. The source material is perfectly fine by itself, but it’s intriguing and dark-humored. Understandably, a creative would take a crack at it.
Unfortunately, the creatives behind this film are incapable of stretching the material into something as clever as its source. The decent performances on screen can’t save it.
Spiderhead the movie focuses on the “escape” part of the title and dumbs it down. Here, Jeff is still trapped in a pharmaceutical environment that manipulates people’s emotions and desires.
But it’s big pharma run by a crazy genius with Daddy issues. He uses a Bingo card to keep track of his evil experiments because he’s a sick bastard. And of course, he’s addicted to his stuff. He and Jeff are best buddies for some reason.
This movie runs for an hour without developing its characters and their relationships beyond exposition because it’s too busy enjoying its aesthetics and vintage music tracks. It doesn’t add anything more to the short story and settles for a simplistic commentary about free will and self-forgiveness.
It sounds like this adaptation is unnecessary.
But then you wouldn’t see Chris Hemsworth and his hip-swinging dance moves.
Like any other predictable redemption arc, Jeff stops feeling sorry for himself, refuses to comply after some predictable plot twists, defeats the villain and his drug-addled loons, escapes on a boat parked out front, and sails towards the sunset with his newfound love.
Spiderhead is a boring and misguided adaptation. Unless you want to watch Hemsworth chew the scenery with a bad American accent in a mediocre Netflix movie and pass the time.
Spiderhead is a misguided adaptation that dumbs down a thought-provoking dystopian short story into a generic redemption tale.