TL;DR – A bunch of ideas that never coalesced into a whole
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid for the Netflix account that viewed this film
Spiderhead Review –
Finding the tone is one of the most challenging parts of making a film, from the script to the filming to the edit. It is said a movie is made three times, and in that creation, a feeling can be discovered or a story lost. This week we look at a film that is trying to do many things, but in the mix, it never finds itself.
So to set the scene, in a remote location, accessible only but seaplane is the Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Centre. Inside, the man in charge of the facility, Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), runs experiments on the inmates [with their sort of consent], and if they commit, they will get time off their sentences. One of the inmates, Jeff (Miles Teller), gets to go on field trips to test the compounds but coming off the high can impact his speech and cognition, impacting his attempts to flirt with Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett). But you can’t help but ask: the question in the background: Is everything what it seems?
While this narrative never came together, it was still a film with some interesting things going on. The whole medical testing of compounds was presented interestingly, with a facade of ethical responsibility, but it would be doubtful that any ethics committee would greenlight this. I think the cast was giving their best in the circumstances, and a level of weirdness on that front could have worked. It would have been nice to see some of the cast, like Chris Hemsworth, take things up a level or two, but it does all work on that front. Also, it kind of helps that some of the exteriors were filmed near me, and yes, driving drunk on a dirt road will not end well between you and a gum tree.
Where this film does not work is in all the connective tissue that it needs to hold it all together. The tone in this film is all over the place, with a wired 10 Things I Hate About You visual aesthetic juxtaposed with casual torture. Can you make that odd juxtaposition work? Sure. Here, however, it was off-putting at best. Then you have the issue of tonally who was this film for because the sex and violence would probably be off-putting to those who tend to like movies in that M realm. Yet also, all the violence in this film felt like it would be woefully tame/ vanilla for those who want their action in the MA15+ territory. These tonal issues would have been a minor frustrating issue, but the lack of any interesting story amplifies them. You have to sit through almost an hour of set-up before something remotely interesting happens. More than that, the film can’t be sure what it wants to say. At best, we get a surface-level analysis of control, but there was significantly more the narrative could have done in that space.
In the end, do we recommend Spiderhead? Unfortunately, no. It has a good cast and an interesting set-up. But unfortunately, without all the narrative tendons and ligaments you need for a strong narrative, it just falls flat on its face. If you liked Spiderhead, I would recommend to you Blade Runner 2049.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Spiderhead
Directed by – Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay by – Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Based on – Escape From Spiderhead by George Saunders
Music by – Joseph Trapanese
Cinematography by – Claudio Miranda
Edited by – Stephen Mirrione
Production/Distribution Companies – Grand Electric, The New Yorker Studios & Netflix
Starring – Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Tess Haubrich, BeBe Bettencourt, Mark Paguio, Sam Delich, Joey Vieira, Daniel Reader, Ron Smyck, Stephen Tongun, Charles Parnell & Nathan Jones
Rating – Australia: MA15+;