With technology evolving at the rate it is, it is not weird to think that what we see in “Spiderhead” is the future of medicine. A research center dedicated to testing drugs that control emotions. As cool as it sounds and appears, it’s equally dangerous and makes us rethink our own lives. Trial programs have been a common thing in sci-fi films and even superhero films, but “Spiderhead” takes a dig at such trial programs, and ups the ante by showing how dangerous they can be, or rather tries to do so. And it is nice to see Chris Hemsworth without a hammer for a change.
Clinical trials are carried out daily at the Spiderhead Penitentiary and Research Center to test new drugs that control human emotions like anger, mirth, laughter, and pain. In the film, the effects of the drugs are more pronounced. We have Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), who is the head of the facility and runs the trials. His assistant is Verlaine (Mark Paguio). And among the many test subjects, we have Jeff (Miles Teller) and Rachel (Jurnee Smollett), among others. Each of them has a MobiPak attached to their lower back that contains the vials of each drug, five in total. Before a particular drug is dripped into the bloodstream, the subject’s permission is necessary. And this is where things get interesting. When Jeff questions the purpose of a drug, new things start to come to light. He finds out that Steve is secretly testing a different drug, one that causes obedience, only to make the patients “acknowledge” all the other drugs.
Visually, the Spiderhead facility is more or less what such a facility should be like. It wears the now-all-too-uncanny cloak of an aloof modern research center where all the patients receive the best services only in return for their acknowledgment of the tests. Under the cloak lies the villainous intention of a mad scientist who basically wants to control emotions and thus humans. Production designer Jeremy Hindle has done a good job of showing off modernism while portraying the feelings of loneliness and confinement that linger within. The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is compelling, but in the hands of Chris Hemsworth, it isn’t able to hit the spot. As always, he is way too good-looking for such a character that has a dual nature; warm on top but cold underneath. Miles Teller is great and is undoubtedly a rising actor of his generation. He is able to portray that voluntary obliviousness that comes with acknowledging the “drip-on.” But “Spiderhead” doesn’t have the “danger” quotient which is often expected from such films. We know that the screenplay is adapted from George Saunders’ short story “Escape from Spiderhead,” but the writers could have improvised more to give us something to dread about. More interactions between the patients that went wrong, and more close calls would have certainly added to the Spiderhead sinister effect that the trailer carried.
Overall, it’s good to see Hemsworth in a totally new avatar, which proves that he is capable of more than being an Avenger. Director Joseph Kosinski (“Top Gun: Maverick,” “Oblivion,” “Tron: Legacy”) tries to build a whole new world for us, as he successfully did in the mentioned films. But in Spiderhead, he struggles to do so. Visually, the film works just fine, but at an emotional level, since it deals with emotions, most of the viewers would need a drip or two, not more, of the B-6 drug (Obediex), to give an outright nod to “Spiderhead.”
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, 2022 Film “Spiderhead” is streaming on Netflix.