Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Mark Paguio, Tess Haubrich, Angie Millikan
Run Time: 107 mins
Spiderhead is the second film of the year to be directed by Joseph Kosinski, who is currently enjoying healthy box office returns and critical acclaim with Top Gun: Maverick, currently in cinemas. This straight-to-Netflix dystopian sci-fi thriller is set on a state-of-the-art penitentiary, called Spiderhead. The inmates are convicts from state prisons who have volunteered to head to the facility to reduce their sentence time. They wear a surgically attached device that administers a cocktail of mind-altering drugs, the effects analysed by Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) and his assistant, Mark (Mark Paguio). Abnesti runs the prison with an open-door policy and the inmates are unsupervised – they have their own rooms and are free to roam around the facility. One of the inmates, Jeff (Miles Teller) represents the audience insight into the narrative and the first act of the film explores an experiment with him and two female inmates.
It’s a fascinating concept and the characters are subjected to make some dark and difficult decisions. Spiderhead is directed with flair by Kosinski and the performances are great. Miles Teller is typically reliable and carries the baggage of his character’s crimes with the will to change his future convincingly. Hemsworth is excellent as the voyeuristic Abnesti, whose charisma walks a fine line between prickly comedy and satisfying ridiculousness.
Cinematographer Claudio Miranda captures the prisoners’ point of view excellently, the hues of artificial colours inside the penitentiary juxtaposed with the lush, tropical island settling. Kosinski does well to methodically reveal character backstories, maintaining tension throughout proceedings.
There’s also an interesting soundtrack by Kosinski-regular Joseph Trapanese, who flits between a predominantly electronic original score with 1970s rock, with some of the tracks are interestingly inserted dietetically into the film.
The third act of the film changes gear from exploring its interesting themes and human behaviour to a more action-heavy delirium. I suspect this is why the film is receiving mixed reviews but I got on board with it and liked how Kosinski leaned into the ridiculousness of the premise.
Spiderhead is an original sci-fi thriller that I had a lot of fun with. Kosinski constantly keeps the film fresh, being careful to keep audiences on their toes with its narrative and the cast are all fresh. I found the ending a natural and satisfyingly bleak place to develop its story and the film is bolstered by some entertaining performances.