Netflix’s ‘Spiderhead’ does injustice to George Saunders’ original story

Netflix’s ‘Spiderhead’ does injustice to George Saunders’ original story

After the massive success of Top Gun: Maverick, director Joseph Kosinski's second film this summer is Spiderhead, the science-fiction movie not expected to be a total blockbuster but safe enough to be released on Netflix. 

This streaming site is becoming infamous nowadays for producing mediocre movies with big names and weak plots. 

Following the original source from author George Saunder’s dystopian short story ‘Escape from Spiderhead,’ this Netflix film fails to depict the story as good as the source and makes the film look like a prison drama.

The film’s setting is the eponymous Spiderhead, an avant-garde penitentiary in a remote location where prisoners psychologically experiment with drugs in exchange for reduced prison sentences. 

The prisoners also get more freedom than in a general prison - the ability to freely roam within the facility, interact with other inmates and even cook for themselves. The main prisoners of the plot are Jeff and Lizzy, where Jeff is incarcerated for manslaughter for killing his friend in a car accident.

The drug experiments are supervised by Steve Abenasti, an eccentric scientist with a welcoming demeanour toward all prisoners. He experiments by the order from higher-ups on prisoners to better understand their psychology, interactions and perceptions. 

Steve explains to prisoners that the experiments are for the betterment of humanity. But as the story reveals, Jeff realises that Steve’s deeds aren’t so noble as some drug tests turn into fatal consequences for many prisoners and show to be a farce while trying to mind control every prisoner. Having this realisation, he and Lizzy plot to escape this horrific human test site.

Spiderhead attempts to depict the weirdness of Saunders’ dystopian sci-fi story but fails to do it properly. 

The ending does not incite the same feeling as the short story; instead, it feels like a slapstick comedy. The plot is longer than the original story with significant deviations. 

Also, most of the film looks shot in just two rooms except for the cinematic landscape of the facility, which gives a claustrophobic experience. Overall, the whole movie looks off-putting.

If this film manages to achieve any success, it might be because of Chris Hemsworth. He plays the role of Steve Abenasti, the antagonist. His portrayal of the villain is a friendly face at first but can turn into a menacing one in seconds. Steve can manipulate with no guilt and incite fear with a smile, a praiseworthy act from the Australian actor.

Spiderhead was released between two blockbusters – Kosinski directed the Top Gun sequel and Hemsworth acted in Thor: Love and Thunder which is scheduled to be released in July. 

Although the film wasn’t expected to be another blockbuster while sandwiched between those two, the underutilisation of the story makes it disappointing.

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