Review: ‘Spiderhead’ combines the sci-fi thrills of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Ex Machina’ on Netflix

Joseph Kosinski has already achieved the hit of the summer with “Top Gun: Maverick”. His new sci-fi thriller, “Spiderhead,” which drops on Netflix Friday, is a thematic but all-too-familiar addition to the genre of “Black Mirror” and “Ex Machina.”

OMCP’s Jason Fraley reviews “Spiderhead”

Joseph Kosinski has already achieved the hit of the summer with “Top Gun: Maverick”. His new sci-fi thriller, “Spiderhead,” which drops on Netflix Friday, is a thematic but rather predictable addition to the genre of “Black Mirror” and “Ex Machina.”

Set in the near future, scientist Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) runs a remote island prison laboratory that allows convicts to volunteer as medical subjects to shorten their prison sentences. An inmate, Jeff (Miles Teller), begins to question the reality of his emotions after being tested for drugs that instantly generate eloquence, romance, and paranoia.

It’s refreshing to see Hemsworth outside of Thor, but it’s a double-edged sword: It works when he’s playing jocks like in “Rush” (2013), but it seems unrealistic for a scientist to be so torn, even if he doesn’t. exercising while training with his assistant. Oscar Isaac was more believable in “Ex Machina,” but Hemsworth at least lends charm to his drug-addicted science antagonist.

The protagonist is more believable as Teller, who burst onto the scene in 2014’s ‘Whiplash’ and is having quite the year as ‘The Offer’ (2022) miniseries lead and sidekick. in “Top Gun: Maverick.” In “Spiderhead”, he self-depreciates admirably, considering himself a 5/10 on the beautiful scale, while haunted by the pain of survivor’s guilt.

Her character development comes through interactions with other inmates — her best friend Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett, “Lovecraft Country”), sexual experimenter Heather (Tess Haubrich, “Treadstone”) and tattooed bully Rogan (Nathan Jones , “Mad Max: Fury Road”) – as well as voicemails for the girlfriend he left outside (BeBe Bettencourt, “Eden”).

What crimes has each inmate committed? This is the mystery of the screenplay based on George Saunders’ short story “Escape from Spiderhead”. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick bring their same humor to ‘Zombieland’ (2009) and ‘Deadpool’ (2016), but they try too hard with a subplot about ‘Sh*t Finger’ that smears shit all over the walls from jail.

In addition to well-timed flashbacks to the characters’ stories, the script does a terrific job of peeling the onion from the lab itself, dropping clues into the names of the various chemicals, and planting key information in the letters. and the numbers of each vial. .

Unfortunately, those breadcrumbs turn into a final twist that isn’t exactly shocking in the way that, say, “Chinatown” (1974) reveals its sinister family subplot amid a massive plot to control the network. Los Angeles water and electric utility. “Spiderhead” could have aimed higher, but instead settles for something smaller than we’ve seen coming all along.

Kosinski directs with kinetic energy, especially in party and cruising flashbacks. Inside the lab, his voyeurism strongly steals Alex Garland in “Ex Machina,” from its overall remote lab feel (shot in Australia during the pandemic) to his “male gaze” commentary on patriarchs looking at subjects through windows.

He could have limited excessively long sex scenes that make viewers uncomfortable. Maybe that’s the point, but it seems like the director is enjoying it a bit too much. Don’t press play until you’ve put the kids to bed; “Spiderhead” gets its “R” rating. While the indulgent lovemaking lingers on point, the violence is done sparingly with nuanced artistry.

Ultimately, “Spiderhead” clocks in at a quick hour and 46 minutes, so go for it if you have a Netflix subscription and dig sci-fi thrillers. It may not be anything new, but it raises some fascinating questions that humans may soon be facing. Just know what you’re getting into and repeat after the inmates each time they accept a new drug infusion: “Recognize.”