MOVIES: Spiderhead – Review

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It might be a result of the Netflix algorithm, but the fact that you might not have noticed that Joseph Kosinski, director of the biggest hit movie of the year so far, Top Gun: Maverick, has a new film out on Netflix this week featuring its major star, Miles Teller, and Avenger Chris Hemsworth, is slightly telling of the current state of Netflix’s state in the great streaming wars of the early 2020s – there is little advertisement or promotion for this film and it’s a real shame as there’s a movie in here. It’s real – a world away from the franchises that Kosinski has brought to screen, and despite some problems, a lot of fun.

Spiderhead takes us to an island where Chris Hemsworth plays a rogue scientist experimenting on prisoners to try and find a drug that makes people fall in love with each other regardless of how much they know about them. It’s a simple Black Mirror premise and the film could easily be a Black Mirror episode with a rewrite to trim the length. You’ve seen its premise before and there’s nothing new brought to the table in Spiderhead, but thanks to the craftmanship of Kosinski, it’s a touch above a pastiche, well executed and quite gripping throughout – showcasing the benefits of the ”one for you, one for me” approach that directors like Soderbergh have been embracing – they’ll do a big budget movie and use the funds to go off and do a passion project. Spiderhead feels like Kosinski’s baby, a film more in line with the likes of Oblivion than say, Tron: Legacy – not to say each of Kosinski’s two sequels haven’t felt like passion projects in their own right.

Miles Teller’s performance opposite Chris Hemsworth is a solid one, if not quite as good as his turn as Rooster, whilst Hemsworth has charisma in spades able to sell why so many would be easily convinced by his character, a bog-standard Silicon Valley villain, but unfortunately lacks the depth required to make the revelations about his character beyond surface level. Much more compelling is Jurnee Smollett, who has a storyline that could have easily led her to be cast as the lead rather than in a supporting role as her relationship with Teller’s character is where the movie finds its real edge to it and gains its momentum when it threatens to unravel itself. There are moments where the characters spend time hanging out and the pace dovetails to almost a hangout movie with a darker undertone, and it unfortunately means that the thriller pace is lost at times where the movie starts to sag, not quite having enough depth to sustain its runtime.

I did like the finale even though its commentary on the flaws of big tech companies and experimental drugs is all put into one person, meaning that it misses the chance to make a grander statement, but this leads to a thrilling action set-piece. The usage of music is inventive and anyone who’s seen Kosinski’s previous work will know that he is able to use music really well – it’s a carefully crafted, upbeat soundtrack – directly at odds with what is happening before our eyes, yet tonally perfect. There are a few stumbling blocks early on where scenes with more serious implications are played for laughs, and they don’t always land – Spiderhead is perhaps a touch too safe to fully embrace its potential depth.

Unfortunately, perhaps as a result of that – there’s nothing quite in Spiderhead that means it can break the mould of the standard Netflix thriller outing that will be forgotten about in a week’s time when the next Netflix thing comes out (rinse and repeat), but there’s something cinematic behind the film’s vision and from the standard Netflix thrillers that we’ve had since the studio started making them, it’s one of the better ones. That’s in part due to the efforts of Claudio Miranda, who makes the film have a well polished feel where it really feels like it deserved a cinematic release: Kosinski is the master of making things look good for the biggest screen possible and it almost feels like a disservice to watch Spiderhead on the small screen as a result.



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