When I launched this site 9 days ago I certainly did not expect I would be in this position. For starters, this will already be my 2nd review for a brand new Joseph Kosinski film starring Miles Teller. Along with that, this also already my 2nd review for a Netflix original film. Context is that I typically watch 2-3 Netflix original films a year; for the most part I find the quality of their movies to be pretty bottom tier. The fact that they’ve released 2 films in the last week that greatly intrigued me must mean they’re doing something new over there.
Spiderhead was adapted from the short story by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick of Zombieland and Deadpool fame. Despite the talent involved, including the headlining actors, this film does not have a lick of humor to it. This is a psychological thriller that’s a healthy cocktail of sci-fi, drug trip tales, and prison break movies.
The titular Spiderhead is a special research facility and penitentiary on an undisclosed island with a peculiar set of circumstances. Inmates with life sentences stay in this beautiful futuristic mansion with open doors and friendly faces completely free to live normal lives within the confines of those walls. Outside they are surrounded by beautiful oceans and wilderness that they can explore under the supervision of the prison staff. To go along with all of that, participating in this program also takes years off of their sentences. So what’s the caveat? All these inmates are test subjects that must willingly be administered new ground breaking drugs that will change the world, with various nuances.
Who’s on Sexy Prison Island?
Chris Hemsworth (also a Producer on this film) plays Abnesti, the lovable sexy scientist who has created a plethora of drugs that can control human emotions and physical feelings. Abnesti runs his prison like a real chill bro; ordering expensive items that the inmates request to make them more comfortable, open door policy where anyone can go anywhere in doors and feel free to speak their minds, participation and knowledge on the scientific end of the experiments. If you’re going to be locked in prison, who wouldn’t want to spend it on a gorgeous island with this beautiful man pumping you full of drugs? As is always the case with these scientist roles, Abnesti definitely has ulterior motives.
Miles Teller plays Jeff, a morally good person who we slowly find out throughout the movie how someone so sweet and caring could end up with a life sentence. This is Teller’s third outing with Kosinski after Only the Brave and Top Gun: Maverick. For lack of a better word his performance is fine. I feel like Teller definitely has an archetype he likes to play; well meaning man with good intentions starts on a high (literally in this film) and eventually discovers he’s in over his head and trusted the wrong influencer. This is all to say he does a serviceable job he’s just not pushing himself to any new territory.
Jurnee Smollett rounds out the main trio as Lizzy, a recent addition to the collection of inmates who has developed a very flirtatious and chemistry filled friendship with Jeff. Smollett has been on quite a tear in the acting world for a while now and unfortunately she has very little to do in this movie. She’s essentially used as a love interest and plot device to help Jeff question what’s really going on and push forward to the final act that the short story is truly about.
Where are the drugs?!?!
The most interesting aspects of the movie come in the first half where you’re seeing all the wonderful and scary things these drugs that Abnesti has created can do, or more so, make you do. This includes:
- Lafadill – a drug that will make you uncontrollably laugh no matter how terrible a joke is or how serious the subject matter
- Verbulance – makes the user be completely open and vocal about what they are thinking
- Luvactin – makes you instantly fall in love with the person in front of you with extreme horniness and uncontrollable lust (literally boning here folks)
- Darkenfloxx – Immense physical and mental pain with suicidal thoughts
- These and many many more that I won’t spoil here
There is a bevy of wondrous drugs put on display here that drives the interest of the film so I won’t get into the specifics. A lot of visual flare comes from these scenes and as an audience your emotions will change along with the characters that experiencing these drastic shifts. You can likely guess the main story beats that happen from beginning to end but it’s the journey and surprises that come with them that make it worth your time.
Aesthetically speaking this movie reminds me a lot of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. A futuristic research facility in the woods with sleek tech ran by a scheming scientist that also doubles as a prison. There’s a lot of visual flares, particularly with the sets, that really shows Kosinki’s background in sci-fi with Oblivion and Tron: Legacy.
This story had a lot of promise and ultimately I found it to be an overall enjoyable experience. The movie loses a lot of steam once you know the strings on the puppets but there’s still plenty of surprises to keep you watching through the end. I give it 6.5 Lafadill’s out of 10.