Spiderhead is another example of the classic “great concept, terrible execution.”
Spiderhead is not the name of some Lovecraftian monster. Instead, it’s an unusual penitentiary where inmates enjoy significant freedom and luxury, in exchange for their participation in pharmaceutical experiments. With intriguing names such as Laffodil, Verbaluce, and Luvactin, the substances tested at Spiderhead also seem harmless, perhaps even capable of safeguarding society when refined. But is that truly the case? Or does the penitentiary hide darker intentions, with the inmates no more than expendable guinea pigs?
Right, finally found time to write about this sci-fi thriller, which I watched over a week ago.
This Netflix summer “blockbuster,” of sorts, starring Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller. So strategically released on the (embattled) streaming platform between Top Gun: Maverick and the fourth Thor movie.
(You’ve got to hand it to the people scheduling such things!)
It disappointed, in short. Not because I had huge expectations—I watched without a clue about the story, but because I felt the movie started with such promise, only to leave you high and wanting. Not too unlike, err, when you rudely discover you’ve depleted your supplies of those sort of pills?
I’m sure you know what I mean.
In fact, it’s as if the movie inexplicably got cold feet midway and decided “let’s wrap up, guys, before things get outta hand.” A huge, huge pity as the movie is genuinely gripping in the first half.
Throughout these earlier moments, Hemsworth and Teller’s characters are meticulously constructed. With everything and every word pointing towards some sort of explosive or ghastly finale.
Hemsworth shines with a child-like wonder that gradually, steadily, turns sinister. Detractors can say he’s but repeating a mix of his previous roles but I feel the man deserves recognition for the effort he throws in. Likewise, Miles Teller impresses with his restrained portrayal of the guilt-ridden Jeff, a character that forms both a curious complement and contrast to Hemsworth’s amoral Abnesti.
But alas, it all ends up in the drain. There is no intelligent strike-back. No gruesome climax or grand escape. Even the intriguing inmates introduced are hastily dispensed. The show leaves you without a hint at how these colourful characters feel about the drugs. How much they loathed or depended on them. Whether they even needed to be in the story.
Abnesti himself is dismissed in an anti-climax that’s amazingly lacking in fulfilment. The way this scene is presented, one could argue some sort of poetic recompense was intended. But again, with the sort of build-up going on, it’s just not what most viewers would be satisfied with, IMO.
Why did the movie end this way? Could it be because the source material, i.e., George Saunders’ short story did not conclude with a climax befitting a psychological movie thriller? And in their efforts to come up with one, the producers stumbled?
Or is it no more than the usual case of a splendid premise incorrectly explored? For a start, too much attention was lavished on Abnesti?
I feel it’s a mix of both.
Check out my other snappy movie reviews.