“In the near future, convicts are offered the chance to volunteer as medical subjects to shorten their sentence. One such subject for a new drug capable of generating feelings of love begins questioning the reality of his emotions.”

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: George Saunders, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Staring: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Mark Paguio, Tess Haubrich
Release Date: June 17, 2022

Unlike The Gray Man (2022), I had fairly high expectations for Spiderhead. The premise was slightly more original, while it is still based off of a George Saunders short story. The presence of Miles Teller after his stunningly good performance in Top Gun: Maverick (2022) enough to get me in, and then seeing Chris Hemsworth attached as a charismatic asshole role was adding to my intrigue going in. Let’s note that Spiderhead is directed by Joseph Kosinski, the same man who was coordinating the crazy students with Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick.

What are the odds that Spiderhead could disappoint too much?

I think someone may have drugged me when I watched Spiderhead because I had a very bad time watching this movie. It was not good. The inconsistency of Spiderhead had me checking my vitals and making sure I wasn’t going into a bit sleepy shock. There were very few moments in this fairly fast moving story that actually drew me in and had me leaning forward in anticipation. For a movie with such star power as Teller and Hemsworth, I would have thought that the entertainment value would at least make for something recommendable.

So what’s the story?

Damn this place does look pretty.

Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) is an eccentric owner of a pharmaceutical company. HIs drug testing facility is an island in the middle of a Caribbean looking setting, and his test subjects are convicted felons who are running away from a past they want to forget. The island Abnesti is running alongside his Verlaine (Mark Paguio) is top-of-the-line in terms of prisons. The inmates have room to roam. They each have their own jobs, the each can explore relationships, and they all are hopeful that after some time on this island they will be set free.

Among the Guinea pigs in Abnesti drug bingo game is Jeff (Miles Teller). The pair have a friendly open door policy, but things begin going a little haywire in their relationship when Abnesti begins testing certain drugs that make Jeff question his volunteering of the tests. Jeff continues to literally acknowledge that he will partake in the mental and physical experiments, but as he begins to doubt his position more, he begins to learn more about the truth. Abnesti is a crazy man, and he is hell bound on success for his project and he has no care for what he does to his subjects.

Jeff’s major motivation to try and better himself is his affection towards another inmate, Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett). The two bond in the kitchen and continue to get to know each other, even the deep dark crevasse of their past. The issue becomes that Jeff begins not liking who he becomes on the drugs that Abnesti is giving him. Jeff is doing and feeling things that he deems reprehensible. He has a hard time looking and interacting with Lizzy after a time, that is until he smartens up and begins looking for solutions.

Come of the end of Spiderhead, it is Jeff versus the world of Abnesti. Can he escape? Can he grow into himself away from the drugs and make his own decisions?

Jeff & Lizzy was the relationship I did buy most in the movie

The number one problem with Spiderhead is that I do not buy the deep connection that Abnesti and Jeff have. The story revolves heavily on Jeff being able to pry bits of information out of his RA (essentially), but those big moments of clarity aren’t earned. It may stem from the fact that the two characters have two polar opposite personalities; Abnesti is a loud speaker who is endlessly optimistic, while Jeff is subdued and prone to silence. The drugs that they are pumped with evens the playing field in terms of emotional vulnerability, but that leads to another question about the script.

There is not enough dependency symptoms shown in Spiderhead. Abnesti is literally addicted to his drugs, but all we see is him getting giddy, going to sleep on them and using it as a massive stress release. We do see what happens when people overdose by accident (and it isn’t a pleasant sight), but what about the personal choice to overdose? It is as if Abnesti quest for success is more addicting and dangerous than the drugs he is taking…and perhaps that is the theme the screenwriters are going for.

Did I just stumble into something?

Well here is the thing. If that is true, then it took me about three weeks to understand the point and I only did so by typing out my frustration. This is either an indication of my stupidity or of the cloudiness of the second level story telling.

What also doesn’t help Spiderhead is that the ending was the definition of “meh”. If you have seen the movie, then you know it is incredibly predictable if you are looking for a happy ending. It all wraps up in a fairly neat bow. A movie like Spiderhead is going to appeal to a niche audience; It has the star power for major viewing, but its subject and execution are not main stream. Why not end the story with something a bit darker?

Maybe I am being too harsh on Spiderhead, but nothing about this movie worked well for me. The best aspect of the movie was how pretty the set looks. I have it nominated it in my own Oscar nominations for Best Production Design, but I can’t honestly see it lasting there a long time.

One other little interesting thing about Spiderhead is that it is the third time that Miles Teller has worked with director Joseph Kosinski. We all know that Top Gun: Maverick was a success, and the reviews for Only The Brave (2017). I mean Feitelberg has it as one of its major cry movies. This was the first miss for the duo.

If you want to see pretty people act a little crazy, then Spiderhead is a movie for you. If you want a fulfilling viewing experience where you remember something good, then go watch Miles Teller be charismatic as hell in many other movies.

STANKO RATING: D+ (1.5/5 Stars)

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