Imagine that you are sentenced to prison, but instead of serving your sentence in a traditional prison, you are given the opportunity to work in a program with more flexibility, helping the jailer prevent crime.
That is the premise of Spider Head, a sci-fi psychological thriller based on a dystopian short story by George Saunders. The film is expertly adapted from the source material by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who wrote Deadpool, and expertly directed by Joseph Kosinski, who helmed the Top Gun sequel this summer.
The film stars Chris Hemsworth (MCU’s Thor) and Miles Teller in his second project with the director this year. Hemsworth plays a jailer who runs a research facility using transferred prisoners as guinea pigs for experimental emotion-manipulating drugs.
Both actors shine in their roles. Teller presents a subtle idea of how someone seeks redemption by wanting to do the right thing; the conflicting emotions in Teller’s acting are reminiscent of his acting in the film Obsession.
Hemsworth brings his trademark charisma and charm to a rule that is very different from anything he has played in the past. Usually he plays a hero, but here he plays a narcissistic explorer with a god complex. It’s interesting and highlights how much fun the actors have when they get the chance to play the antagonist.
But, as with all psychological thrillers, something far more dangerous lurks beneath the surface. The further into the story, the more the true selves of the characters begin to emerge, and the dynamic, skillfully played by the lead actors, is a brilliant work.
The cinematography is also impressive. The camera does a lot by showing a plan of the Spiderhead object. Viewers also get a lot of visual exposure rather than relying on dialogue to just tell them something.
The music of Joseph Trapanese serves as a kind of auditory storyteller; The cues in the score help highlight the isolation, trauma, and post-traumatic stress that inmates experience in the facility.
In particular, there are several themes that immediately stand out to the public; for example, the notion of who is at the helm and notions of crime and punishment. At first you are not sure who is really in control, the jailer or the prisoner.
But this sense of control goes even deeper; many science fiction stories focus on the concept of over-reliance on technology. Hemsworth’s character relies heavily on this, using his smartphone to control everything in the facility, from doors to surgically implanted drug delivery systems built into inmates’ backs. What happens when the phone breaks?
All in all, Spider Head is a cleverly written sci-fi story. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or the actors, you’ll love this movie and it will make you question the ethics used and neglected by the pharmaceutical industry.
Spider Head is currently streaming on Netflix.
Garrett K. Jones is a local science fiction writer. He currently has four books released in his ongoing series and produces a YouTube vlog and Creator’s Corner podcast (available on Spotify, Google and Apple). www.archivesofthefivekingdoms.com/IG/Twitter: @gkj_publishing
Feel free to contact him with suggestions for movie titles you would like him to consider.