Tuesday 9 August 2022

Movie Review: Spiderhead (2022)

A drama combining pharmaceutical drug experimentation with the search for redemption, Spiderhead abandons interesting themes in favour of mindless thrills.

Located within an idyllic but isolated tropical setting, the low-security Spiderhead penitentiary houses inmates who have agreed to be subjects for experimental drug tests. The suave and confident Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) and his assistant chemist Mark (Mark Paguio) operate the facility, creating and testing drugs that manipulate emotions. Jeff (Miles Teller) is one of the test subjects, still processing the trauma of having caused death by driving while impaired. He starts a friendship with fellow inmate Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett).

Steve has a soft spot for Jeff, and uses him to test a drug that enhances sexual attractiveness. But Jeff balks when forced to participate in tests of a drug that causes rage and pain. Meanwhile Steve carries his own emotional scars from a troubled upbringing, and self-administers experimental drugs to dull the pain. When a test goes wrong and a subject is harmed, the relationship between Steve and Jeff ruptures, leading to a final confrontation.

Spiderhead starts slowly, builds sufficient curiosity to warrant some attention, but then fizzles badly into a quite awful final act. Adapting a book by George Saunders, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick take their time to create a sense of place and purpose. Good work from Hemsworth, Teller, and Smollett helps to create decent momentum by the halfway mark, the science faction exploring what human cravings the pharmaceutical industry may next choose to exploit.

But with many intriguing narrative avenues available to pursue, director Joseph Kosinki steers towards an inane climax involving bingo cards, sloppy safety and security measures, and critical devices placed in the hands of inmates. Revelations tumble out in an irrelevant torrent, and emotions oscillate with no coherence as chaos is allowed to reign. The drama disintegrates from potentially cerebral to plain stupid, and in a late act of desperation, madcap humour is inserted into the previously dour mood.

The set design is slick and sleek, but Spiderhead opts for the rancid juice.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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