Now, it’s no surprise that Netflix produces its fair share of films every year, under various genres, around 100 films are released each year from Netflix alone. With such a number of projects being greenlit and produced every year, you’re bound to come across titles worthy of the hidden gem title but also stumble on pure Hollywood schlock from time to time. But of course, like a weathered bookshelf, there are projects smack dab in the middle of the stack collecting virtual dust as they usually offer no rewatch quality. These films, for the most part, offer a passable story or concept but are too afraid of taking a leap but instead opt for a more comfortable climax for audiences. And recently, Joseph Kosinski’s (Top Gun: Maverick) latest sci-fi thriller, Spiderhead, is a perfect example of a project waiting to collect dust. In this conceptually captivating but subpar film, those incarcerated for their crimes are given a choice between state prison or a remarkably comfy penitentiary, in return, inmates must subject themselves to experimental mind-altering drugs run by a genius seeking to change the world with these highly powerful drugs.
Spiderhead certainly comes in swinging with its interesting story, revolving around a concept that feels somewhat forthcoming. And although the drugs used in the film come across as fantasy-like, as the technology feels a tad stretched, the concept as a whole will get you pondering. Though, ironically enough, the concept driving the story slowly unravels as the film carries on, with writers Rhett Reese (Deadpool, Zombieland) and Paul Wernick (6 Underground, Life) seemingly unsure of how to proceed with the story after the first hour of the film. Wernick and Reese are no strangers to each other, in fact, the two have worked almost extensively on 6 films prior to Spiderhead and yet, somehow, it’s as if their ideas clash consistently on each project that they’re a part of, Spiderhead being no exception.
Frustration introduces itself around the midpoint in the film as you’ll inevitably begin to notice how poor execution was made. The thing is, if you were to completely separate elements of this film and pay attention to each one, it’s evident that this film does feature solid bones to assemble a worthy project with a gripping narrative. The performances for instance are quite grounded, rarely are there any lulls to be seen. Miles Teller, alongside Jurnee Smollett, performs well together, showing off the believable chemistry as well as their ability to carry tense scenes when needed. But Chris Hemsworth absolutely steals the show and quite literally every scene he is placed in from beginning to end, playing the extremely charismatic genius while also conveying the slight red flags in his personality. It’s clear Hemsworth has some range to him, first showcased in Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale, and to watch him perform with similar talent is refreshing on its own.
Along with the more than acceptable performances, the film displays hints of beautiful technical aspects such as editing and cinematography. Claudio Miranda captures and blends shots together in an almost euphoric manner, and his work here mimics shots seen in his previous projects like the underrated sci-fi, Oblivion, also directed by Kosinski. And speaking of which, this doesn’t appear to be Kosinski’s first time directing a film that drops the ball in terms of execution. Take Tron: Legacy, for instance, a film with a concrete idea in mind but when push came to shove, the film would eventually collapse onto itself when it came to narrative flaws. Even Oblivion suffered the same fate during its time, a gorgeously constructed world along with material from the source material to use as inspiration, and yet the film would tank due to again, narrative and story mishaps. But these two films share a common trait other than the prominent flaws, it’s their beauty amidst the fog of imperfections. Kosinski’s films, time and time again, call attention to the very subtle beauty between the lines of his projects. And I feel this is seen again in Spiderhead, flaws can be traced back to the writing room of course, but it’s the thriving technical aspects that sustain the audience’s attention even if the plot spreads thin.
Ultimately, is Spiderhead worth the almost 2 hour run time it takes to complete? I would have to say if you’re willing to sacrifice some common sense for the sake of entertainment, it may be worth the time. Overall, this film is neither an example of impeccable nor atrocious filmmaking, it is a film that walks the line between the two. It is your average sci-fi flick with the potential to be something more memorable but winds up falling short during the last act as the writers are too afraid to take a leap of faith. All in all, Kosinski’s Spiderhead is nothing to love nor hate, but rather a soulless fling that you will inevitably forget the name of the next morning. Watch or revisit Kosinki’s other 2022 action film Top Gun: Maverick instead.