Spiderhead review: Chris Hemsworth plays evil in Netflix’s bleak sci-fi drama

Psychological studies are prized by past experiments like out-of-date science fiction. Be famous Stanford Prison Trial, in which a group of volunteers is divided into “guards” and “prisoners” to discern how social roles influence behavior. The trial was postponed after six days because the results were too vague. With that in mind, setting up Netflix’s Spider head It doesn’t sound too weird, other than the high-tech island prison that looks like a modernist art museum.

Deadpool and Zombieland series screenwriter duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick based on the film George Saunders’ 2010 short story “Escape from the Spider’s Head”, in which an inmate named Jeff (Miles Teller) is subjected to a series of drug tests with drugs that manipulate his emotions and actions, especially against other prisoners who are also undergoing treatment. injected drugs. The short story is a thought experiment, toying with ideas about free will and morality under pressure. Manager Joe Kosinski – currently appreciating the near-simultaneous release of his film Top Gun: Maverickalso features Teller – keeping those themes intact, with a picture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thor character, the generous Chris Hemsworth, dancing to ’80s soft rock at the top.

Hemsworth stars as Steve Abnesti, the head of Abnesti Pharmaceuticals, the company that somehow convinces the federal government to lend them a few dozen maximum-security prisoners to serve as human guinea pigs (which has seems so far away, until you know unethical wild history U.S. government experiment on prisoners). From a tropical island fortress, Abnesti and his team experiment with an “emotional regulator” drug that can induce love, lust, and fear in command – nuances of MKUltra and the CIA have unintentionally fooling civilians with hallucinations.

A white seaplane against a vivid dark blue ocean approaches Spiderhead Prison, a stylized concrete building jutting out of a fortress-like island

Image: Netflix

Despite the chaotic premise, Kosinski offers a lighthearted look at Spider head. Colorful cinematography and mental editing contrast the characters’ tragic backgrounds and bleak living conditions, while highlighting the disparity between the most chemically induced and the shockingly low in Abnesti’s experiments. Midway through the movie, Abnesti asks Jeff to describe the worst day of his life when they were both traveling on the same euphoric drug. Jeff remembers the day his father abandoned him, laughing hysterically the whole time. The general vibe of the flow of emotions throughout Spider headand Kosinski effectively exploit its sinister nuances.

Much of the burden of maintaining the film’s whimsical tone rests with Hemsworth, whose combination of the social coldness of an executive, the everyday sadism of a warden and the disloyalty of a warden. security of a suburban father worried that he was losing the edge. Abnesti desperately wanted Jeff to like her, for reasons that were never obvious. He doesn’t seem to care if anyone else on the island lives or dies; he uses Jeff’s projected love interest, Lizzy (Lovecraft Countryby Jurnee Smollett), as an emotional joke, and he was amused when another inmate used self-harm during a trial. He treats Jeff differently, though it’s unclear whether he values ​​the man as a friend, a toy, or a grindstone for Abnesti’s manipulative and intimidation skills.

Hemsworth plays Abnesti who is a man so hollow that he soon finds that he is not what he seems. But he does keep the character grounded enough that he doesn’t get turned outside of Bond-villain territory. As a way to tune into the audience’s emotions, the performance is effective – more than a musical palette (jazz for sardonic moments, strings for emotions), both manipulative and predictive . Generally speaking, Spider head works better when it works on a word-of-mouth subscription rather than a sincere one. Reese and Wernick’s efforts to add emotional storylines to these characters act like the accompaniment they are; obviously Spider head is a 106-minute film based on a short story with dialogue.

Names of drugs tested in Spider head rather silly, but no louder than the actual pharmaceutical drug name: The story-boosting serum is called “Verbaluce,” while “Vivistiff” enhances feelings of euphoria. The most difficult to swallow is “Darkenfloxx”, the drug that plunges the user into a black hole of terror and despair. Yet again, Saunders and the screenwriters not too far from reality.

Jurnee Smollett and Miles Teller sit at the same table, hands touching, in Spiderhead prison in Netflix's Spiderhead

Image: Netflix

But one thing about Spider head inconsistent with the real world, and the nagging contradictions almost undermine the film. In the film, Jeff is repeatedly asked to administer Darkenfloxx to other inmates, a request he refuses even when threatened with serious personal consequences if he doesn’t cooperate. In the end, it turned out that he was part of a larger experiment to see if objects could be programmed to overcome “human nature” by “vulnerability.”[ing] the people they love. “That’s fine, except that humans hurt the people they love all the time, without resorting to sci-fi futuristic drugs as an excuse.

They do so for reasons that are often difficult to understand, an aspect of the human psyche Spider head don’t really explain for. For all his heartbreaking backstories and heavy guilt, Jeff always ends up acting out of rational self-interest. He is a being rarely seen outside of philosophical hypotheses. The same is true of other characters in the movie: Throwing away the keys to the prison pantry, an inmate is assaulting Jeff, and Lizzy stops because they’re giving him food. In real life, he has the ability to kill them both and get the key.

For a film so realistic in other areas, Spider head seems to deliberately revolve around the fact that most people don’t need to push themselves to the point of hurting others. Just look at Milgram test, another famous psychological test in which the majority of subjects administered what they believed to be painful electric shocks to others, with much less persuasion than Jeff received in the film. Is Jeff the exception to this rule? Is this an innocent movie or merely a hopeful one? We all like to think that we won’t hurt others simply to benefit ourselves. By reassuring the audience that they, like Jeff, are better than that, Spider headcreative people missed the opportunity to give the audience something truly thought-provoking to munch on.

Spider head streaming on Netflix starting June 17.

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