REVIEW: Spiderhead is a slick, pretty, boring episode of Black Mirror
Chris Hemsworth's new psychological thriller arrives on Netflix this week.
If you're trying to get a baseline for a movie's intelligence, then look no further than the needle drops. Some directors have it down to a fine art, the likes of Quentin Tarantino or James Gunn, dropping in the perfect song for the perfect moment, sometimes doing it so well that it will have to entirely re-evaluate both the song and the movie.
Other directors, well... when they want to get across that their lead character is looking for more, then they play Bryan Ferry's 'More Than This' (completely missing the point of that song in the process). When they want to blur the lines of love and science, they'll literally play Thomas Dolby's 'She Blinded Me With Science'... you get the idea.
Spiderhead had the potential to be a great, creepy psychological horror... except there isn't a single shred of subtlety to be found within its DNA. Everything is obvious, everything is huge and over-the-top, there is literally nothing going on beneath the surface, which is a major problem when your movie is, fundamentally, supposed to be one big mystery.
Steve (Chris Hemsworth) runs a remote testing facility, filled with former prison inmates. In exchange for nicer food, private rooms, etc., the inmates here allow themselves to take part in a series of drug tests. Some of them immediately elevate your mood to a giddy high, some make you incredibly horny, some are a nightmarish assault on your senses.
One of the inmates, Jeff (Miles Teller), begins to suspect there is more going on at this facility than meets the eye, but doesn't want to rock the boat too hard, in case he's sent back to his old prison, plus he has taken a shine to fellow test subject Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett)...
Okay, we'll get the good stuff out of the way first. It won't take long...
Hot off the release of Top Gun Maverick, it is clear that director Joseph Kosinski has a remarkable eye for putting his movies together. Everything looks and feels slick and clinical, and he draws some great performances out of Teller and Smollett (not so much Hemsworth, who is obviously up to no good from frame one).
Unfortunately, Kosinski is undercut by a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who made a name for themselves with OTT screenplays for Deadpool and Zombieland. But this script, based on the acclaimed short story Escape From Spiderhead by award-winning author George Saunders, needed a softer touch.
There were potentially some very interesting places to go with this, from the overwhelming power and influence that big pharma has over the world, to the sub-human treatment incarcerated people might find themselves exposed to, not to mention just a straight-forward trick-of-the-mind thriller where nothing anyone has seen or heard or felt can actually be trusted, because maybe it was just the drugs...?
But nope. Instead, the movie's biggest mystery is... where is all the mystery??
Even the worst episodes of Black Mirror still managed to pull off some kind of a decent rug pull. Spiderhead's big "reveal" is that with a great director, great cast, great plot idea, all that great stuff... you can still end up with kind of a dud.
Spiderhead is available to watch on Netflix from Friday, 17 June.
Clip via Netflix