By: Amanda Guarragi
The world as we know it has changed drastically in the past three years. And it’s hard to even remember how we were living before. There are larger companies that will always take over and insist that they know what is best for the global population, but most of the time that is not the case. In Escape to Spiderhead, the short story written in The New Yorker by George Saunders, he explores the evolution of drugs and human emotions. Even though the premise of the story is somewhat farfetched, it could also be something that could happen shortly. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adapted the short story for the screen, and director Joseph Kosinski gave it his unique touch.
In the near future, convicts are offered the chance to volunteer as medical subjects to shorten their sentences. One such subject for a new drug capable of generating feelings of love begins questioning the reality of his emotions. Kosinski throws you into the concept of this film right from the beginning, which makes for a pretty rocky start. It’s almost disorienting to work backwards and place the scientific aspect of the medical subjects before learning who they are. But, in a way, they are convicts being detained, so it almost makes sense to present the drug before the characters in a formal way. As the film goes on, the structure becomes a bit simpler and it’s easy to follow. The box filled with vials of different emotional drugs is placed on everyone’s lower backs and you can see the shift in emotions when Doctor Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) turns the dial on his phone.
The one thing about Spiderhead is that even though it was a bit awkward and slow at times, this cast gave solid performances. Jeff (Miles Teller) and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett) both have done horrible things and they think the trials help them process their pain. In a way, when someone does something by accident, it haunts them for the rest of their lives, and the film poses the question: what truly makes a person bad? Jeff and Lizzy think they deserve all the pain in the world for what they did, and they are compliant with the trials no matter what. But once the trials get a bit more intense, Jeff questions the real reason Abnesti went into pharmaceuticals. There are moments where Teller, Smollett and Hemsworth had to show a wide range of emotions within seconds, which can be fun, but also challenging. It was impressive to see the switch when the different drugs entered their system and changed their emotions.
Spiderhead has a very interesting concept and that is what keeps you engaged the entire runtime of the movie. There are some weak spots and the film seems to drag at times, but the acting always picks up at the right moment. The film does get stronger as it goes on and it gets darker. It is a movie that highlights grief, trauma, and guilt, and how that manifests into something else later on. Chris Hemsworth does give one of the best performances of his career. This is the first time where he loses himself in a character and it was fun to watch him explore his range. What made this movie even more fun was the wonderful soundtrack. The songs that were used throughout really made for some interesting action scenes, which Kosinski is so good at directing.
Spiderhead will be released on Netflix Friday, June 17th.