How would you hold on to your humanity if your captors were trying to bottle it up and sell it? What kind of inner life would you have if your emotions were reserved for the state? These are the questions that George Saunders posed in his 2010 short story. However, Netflix’s recent adaption of Escape From Spiderhead abandons this cerebral tale for a less thrilling high.
Jeff (played by Miles Teller) has spent years paying for his crimes by participating in mind-altering experiments at Spiderhead penitentiary. Until he begins to question whether the head scientist’s (Chris Hemsworth) intentions are all that pure.
While Saunders’ New Yorker piece attempted to delve into deep moral quandaries about the correctional system, Spiderhead feels only skin deep.
The beauty of the source material was its simplicity. However, the adaption still manages to strip the story back to its bare bones leaving a hollow shell with flashing images.
It’s not that the film is unsalvageable, it has an interesting soundtrack and some funny moments. Yet it is disappointing how it went from having so much potential to becoming largely forgettable.
One of the saving graces of the film is the performances. Jurnee Smollet plays a new character beside Miles Teller and the pair give their character’s unnecessary romance everything they’ve got.
You could say that we’re living through a Teller renaissance at the minute with Top Gun: Maverick just passing $900 million.
This is the second film in a row that Top Gun director, Joseph Kosinski, has enlisted Teller’s help and you can see why. Even when the film descends into madness, Teller is still interesting to watch.
The Whiplash star faces up against Chris Hemsworth as the manipulative Steve Abnesti.
He’s charming as always but something feels off. It’s almost as if everyone else on set knew they were filming a sci-fi thriller, but Chris thought it was an adaption of a Mario game.
At times he could even be likened to the over-friendly boss that calls you his family but won’t let you see your real parents because he is understaffed.
It’s not that it’s a bad performance, it’s just not the right performance.
Hemsworth and Teller are brilliant together, but it would be great to see them battle it out on a project more worthy of their time and talents.
The problem with this film is not that it deviated from the original short story. That happens a lot with film adaptions and there is nothing wrong with doing that if it is in service to the story.
But Spiderhead makes changes based on style, not substance. It chips away at the core of the story to make room for flashy fight scenes and poop jokes.
This may be a good enough film if you’re looking for something to watch while you’re eating your dinner. But if you’re after a good psychological puzzle, avert your eyes.
Featured Image Credit: Netflix