There’s one thing devious concerning the playfulness of Netflix’s Spiderhead. The sci-fi thriller, led by a dapper Chris Hemsworth, takes place at a distant jail slash analysis heart, the place inmates are given a stunning quantity of freedom in alternate for being subjected to experimental pharmaceutical therapies that do all the things from making them really feel terrified to creating an impossible-to-satiate starvation. It’s bleak stuff. And but a lot of the movie has a lightweight tone to assist masks its devious nature; Hemsworth dances to ’80s pop, and inmates spend their free time enjoying arcade video games and creating snacks with prosciutto and nectarines.
The whiplash between these moments and the darkish premise is pleasant, although finally, Spiderhead doesn’t fairly stick the touchdown. It finishes with a fizzle — however it’s nonetheless numerous enjoyable watching Hemsworth attempt to dance alongside the way in which.
Spiderhead is predicated on George Saunders’ quick story “Escape from Spiderhead,” first revealed in the New Yorker in 2010, and directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, High Gun: Maverick), with the Deadpool duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick penning the script. Hemsworth stars as Steve Abnesti, an eccentric tech and science visionary who runs the Spiderhead Penitentiary and Analysis Heart. The jail itself is positioned on what seems to be a distant island; the constructing is a frightening brutalist construction exterior and appears like a imaginative and prescient of the longer term from 1975 inside.
Spiderhead has an open-door coverage and seemingly no guards stationed. Inmates are all given jobs, like managing the snack output or serving as janitors. What actually makes the place distinctive, although, is the little system implanted on the again of each resident. Every is filled with a collection of colourful vials containing completely different chemical substances, and with a smartphone app, Abnesti can manipulate these chemical substances to manage a particular drug and alter the state of the inmates. The primary instance you see is a person who merely can’t cease laughing; Abnesti begins by telling horrible dad jokes earlier than ultimately switching to reciting info about genocide. However the giggles proceed uninterrupted all through the session.
There are medication that make the inmates uncontrollably sexy or hungry and one other that turns any view into essentially the most stunning vista the individual has ever laid eyes on. One drug turns a easy object — like, say, a stapler — into your absolute worst worry. Because the prisoners expertise the consequences, Abnesti watches from behind a big glass wall, often giving out instructions over a speaker. If the inmates aren’t particularly talkative, he makes use of the app to present them a dose of “Verbaluce” to get them to explain their emotions.
The thought of treating a subjugated class as a type of guinea pig isn’t a brand new idea in fiction, however Spiderhead differentiates itself with sheer audacity and its jarring tonal whiplash. The experiments are clearly disturbing, however it’s all hidden underneath a veneer of privilege and the phantasm of alternative. The inmates go together with it, even when it’s actually tousled — at one level, a prisoner named Jeff (Miles Teller) is pressured to decide on which of his fellow inmates ought to get the worst mind-altering drug — as a result of, properly, it’s higher than being in an everyday jail. In addition they must explicitly state they “acknowledge” the process earlier than a dose could be given, making it look like they really have a say within the matter.
Holding all the things collectively is Hemsworth, who you’ll completely need to punch within the face whereas watching this. He exudes tech bro privilege and optimism, masking his nightmare experiments underneath the guise of saving the world (from what, although, we’re by no means advised). All of the whereas, he berates his poor assistant and continuously makes the inmates really feel like they need to specific gratitude for all he’s accomplished for them. At one level, he jokes about how a lot he’s benefitted from wanting so stunning.
Spiderhead is a gradual ramp-up of dread, transferring from the laughing drug to some actually horrible “accidents.” It additionally does an excellent job at hiding its true intentions — when Jeff lastly places the items collectively and understands what the experiments are for, it’s an extremely satisfying twist. Sadly, from that time, the movie doesn’t fairly know what to do with itself. There are some motion sequences and chases on the finish, however all of them go largely nowhere. Spiderhead raises plenty of fascinating (and depressingly related) questions however doesn’t actually have a lot curiosity in answering them.
However up till that remaining act, Spiderhead works surprisingly properly, like an episode of Black Mirror that has an precise humorousness. It’s a narrative that exhibits how far you may get based mostly on allure and the phantasm of fine intentions — and whenever you’re Chris Hemsworth, it’s fairly far certainly.
Spiderhead is streaming on Netflix on June seventeenth.