Presumably, director Joseph Kosinski had hoped to avoid having Spiderhead compared to Michael Bay’s cloning feature The Island, but here we are. A commentary either on animal testing and the broad range of human trials or the strange gateway drug of Marvel films leading to a state of absolute empty repression. Spiderhead then becomes a feature documenting Chris Hemsworth hoping to regain his ability to feel love for art, or just in general. Although it would be a bit on the nose if he were in the hot seat, Miles Teller of all people steps in. A second chance for the Whiplash lead after that weird Esquire interview. If it weren’t too squeaky clean and desensitised, then Spiderhead would be something. Not something good. But something.
Instead, it is nothing. Its gold star, wire-frame glasses stapled to the head of a pale-suited Hemsworth give it the flash variety it hopes to revel in both on-screen and off. Cynical work that has a director of great experience but much less quality. Fast pans trying to focus in on a plane travelling over a luxury island and an upbeat track to kick it all into overdrive. Slick and polished without any need to. Emotion-controlling drugs are enabled on Jeff (Teller) whose rage-inducing flashes and uncanny ability to feel absolutely nothing replicate the strange persona Teller has made for himself in public. Interesting though. His performance does outshine the very generic staple Hemsworth lays claim to.
Somebody had to do it. Better it be Hemsworth than Teller. Either way, they are manifestations of dull ideas used to contort and control the sale of sex and bodies for the psychological horror audience. That sits unwell when a director has no commentary to make beyond the decision-making, or lack thereof, of powerful positions. There is little done to calm the waters either. Not through an understanding of Jeff’s backstory, the reason he finds himself in his position as puppet or the real grounds for his placement in an experiment of limited interest. At best, Spiderhead has vague performances of sincerely bang average quality that will break the mould or shtick for Hemsworth’s heroics. That, at the sacrifice of value to characters or story. What a trade.
Spiderhead is a disturbed and undercooked look into desensitisation. An accidental one. The film is not smart enough to tackle that head-on, it is happenstance through problems, rather than active choices. Spiderhead is an example, not a leader. A root cause of the problem that gives higher art a bad name and lower art the push it never needed into safer territory. If Tess Haubrich’s performance is anything to go by, Spiderhead hopes to use women, supporting performers and musical cues to revel in a Teller and Hemsworth party. That is a bitter pill to swallow, a tougher-than-expected one that does not pair well with the radically defunct ideas at the core of it. A lacking commentary, a misrepresentation of medicine in the real world, because surely Spiderhead makes itself rooted to the spot of the real world, and sincerely unnerving desensitisation. It is the lack of love that Teller’s work as Jeff encounters, but it is the lack of explanation and understanding from Kosinski’s direction that makes it an unforgivably poor piece.