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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Spiderhead' Review: Miles Teller Endures Chris Hemsworth's Questionable Lab Experiments

Chris Hemsworth scheming

Let's kick things off with the biggest thing; why would you call something Darkenfluxx and why wouldn't you spell it with just one x? Make it make sense. Instead of exploring the skies, director Joseph Kosinski decides to land his new seaplane pretty immediately as he takes us to Spiderhead penitentiary in—you guessed it—Spiderhead, a sci-fi thriller written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick based on a short story by George Saunders. Miles Teller plays Jeff, a prisoner who's willingly signed up to serve his sentence in this experimental facility run by Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), where convicts are allowed a bit more freedom in exchange for participating in mind-altering drug trials. Later, Jeff starts to plan an escape with fellow convict Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett) after he finds Abnesti's motives to be questionable.

Based on the overall story and character backgrounds, it's definitely not a surprise that it ended up getting turned into a movie. Spiderhead offers a wide playing field for the cast to play extremes (drugs being used are that extreme, yes), Kosinski to drive the film tonally back and forth and crafts to build something visually striking. In the case of the latter, Jeremy Hindle's production design is especially creative, very much in line with his work on the series 'Severance' but still distinct enough. The facility has an initial perception of openness but the odd shapes and angles then make it seem unpredictable, while it constantly dances with visual effects to make the testing room weirdly intriguing. This all fits the story's themes of repentance and boundaries as well.

Kosinski's candy-coloured splashes on the neutral and sterile environment likely won't be for everyone, and some tension and explosiveness does get sacrificed because of it, most notably in the final ''showdown'' which boringly relies on physicality instead of going the psychological route, which was teased earlier with effects from the drugs. We also probably get a bit too much (dull) insight on past events of Jeff and Lizzy, while more interesting stuff would've been on current and future motivations of them and Abnesti, especially since Hemsworth is really going for it in his performance and Teller uses anguish effectively. Composer Joseph Trapanese's suitably sinister score also leads you to expect something more eccentric than what the straightforward outcome soundtracked by breezy pop tunes ends up being. It works fine but you just know the venom could've been much stronger.

Smileys: Production design, score, story

Frowneys: Characterisation, atmosphere

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