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'Spiderhead' review: Chris Hemsworth led thriller gets high on its own supply

Courtesy of Netflix


You’d struggle to find a crazier leap in quality between films than Joseph Kosinski going from “Top Gun: Maverick,” an absolute masterclass in filmmaking, to the Netflix clunker “Spiderhead” which feels like it was fed into an algorithm that basically said if you cast Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller opposite each other in a pharmaceutical/sci-fi thriller people will keep subscribing. Nevermind the movie keeps beating a dead trojan horse: Netflix continues luring massive stars, paying them upfront, and then wasting the material. For every “The Power of the Dog” or “Hustle,” there’s several variations of “Red Notice” and now, “Spiderhead,” a film that’ll display on the Netflix landing page for one weekend and then disappear from the Top 10 in four days. But its greatest flaw is that it doesn’t have the signature look or feel of a Kosinski film, a director who just delivered one of the best movies of the decade.

Not for lack of trying, Kosinski has proven his cache as an incredible filmmaker whose “Only The Brave” and “Tron: Legacy” have grown in stature since their release, “Spiderhead” probably won’t suffer the same fate. Based on the George Saunders’ New Yorker short story entitled “Escape From Spiderhead,” Kosinski never feels like a good fit for the narrative's (and authors) idiosyncratic tendencies. And perhaps that’s because screenwriting duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, best known for the “Deadpool” franchise, can’t make sense of the premise either and its lead star looks like he just walked onto the set of an entirely different movie.

Hemsworth plays Steve Abnesti, the head researcher for the Spiderhead facility where prisoners of serious crimes are given a messed up version of what is a get out of jail free card. They can make their sentences a little more cozy by participating in a series of drug tests conducted by Dr. Abnesti. All the drugs have cute names with hidden meanings anyone with a brain will understand like Luvactin (good) and Darkenfloxx (bad), which are administered via a Mobile Pack that’s installed on the backside of the patients. The subject responds with the word: “Acknowledge” and it’s off to the races. The chemicals inside these therapeutics control emotions and behavior via the touch of an app. With the push of the button, Abnesti can make his subjects angry, horny, violent and, in the most extreme cases, suicidal.

Teller plays Jeff, one of Abnesti’s muses,’ a prisoner whose drunk driving incident left his best-friend dead which is told via a hilarious flashback. Working in tandem with another fellow patient/prisoner, Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), Jeff is working on a ploy to expose the unethical standard within the Spiderhead facility. A plot that uncovers loose ends, red herrings, and predictably silly twists that makes you want to find the remote and roll the tape on “Ex Machina” instead.

It’s a total mess and Kosinski, bless his soul, earnestly tries to steer the ship somewhere meaningful. This doesn’t make him any less of a great filmmaker, it tells me he can’t be contained to remote locations with minimal action. Hemsworth and Teller get some good licks dialogue wise, but the charisma only extends so far when the script can’t decide what’s the best course of action. “Spiderhead” concludes with a whimper, ending on a note that feels both stretched for time and underwhelming. Lucky for Kosinski, he’s still got Maverick riding high enough to where people might assume this was all but a blip on the radar.

Grade: C-

SPIDERHEAD debuts on Netflix, Friday June 17th.


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