Spiderhead (2022), the dawn of cyberbeige

Of the big streaming services, mostly because it’s given up on having any kind of 80s and 90s back catalogue, Netflix is currently the best place for new cyberpunk things to watch. So, when this Chris Helmsworth fronted drama, written by the team who did Deadpool randomly appeared on Friday I was all kinds of pumped up about it. And now I can happily report that it was mostly okay if you have time to kill.

The set up is solid: prisons are a decent starting point for grubby sci-fi and they force people into the kind of abusive situations this film is all about. That it looks like an office designed by a minimalist Ikea consultant also helps, as gives off a low-key tech ambiance and an uncomfortable feeling of enforced uniformity. That the particular post-human widgetry involves mind-altering experimental drug testing on dubiously consenting inmates is also a good choice, as it has the double edge of being grounded in real world horrors and opening up questions about free will.

“Yeah, I’m going to do this for an hour. Enjoy”

The cast is also, theoretically, on point. Miles Teller does a stoic job as Jeff, the gruff inmate, and Chris Hemsworth plays the charming jailer/experimenter Steve with just the right mix of sympathy and bastardry. The rest of the cast do decent jobs of playing a smorgasbord of inmates, ranging from the mild mannered to the screamingly psychotic, as they go around being guinea pigs in a gilded cage.

Fun Fact: this is the first time a violent person has been presented as being able to read.

Everything looks lovely, all the words are nicely drafted, and there are enough quiet moments to make you think it’s all rather deep and moody. It asks a couple of interesting questions, does enough world building to make you think effort had been put in, and carries along for the most part like a first cut of a Black Mirror episode. Unfortunately, after a while you notice that you’re just waiting for Chris Hemsworth to come back on screen and play against type.

“Don’t worry, I’m a billionaire; we’re never the bad guy”

Part of this is due to the set-up requiring that the inmates act constantly detached and disinterested in each other, which makes for a lot of people being mono syllabic at each other. But part of it is just rather dull, overly moralistic, writing. Jeff’s backstory is engaging until its wonky order is straightened out, and Lizzy (Jurness Smollett) is given a dark secret that could have been social commentary if it wasn’t presented as cliched closet-misogyny. Overall, it fails to do anything interesting with any of it’s premises or ideas. Instead it’s just carries on, self-satisfied, that it floated it’s broad questions in a non-committal manner.

“Did I leave the gas on?”

The ending is also rather dull, deviating from the far better one in the original story, because it highlights how much of the film is given over to letting Hemsworth mug for the camera. It’s hard to overstate how well he does this, but it’s not enough to stop the bulk of the proceedings from being highly forgettable Trash. Someone is undoubtedly making a supercut of his moments in this movie and that’s going to be far more satisfying, and better edited, than the full version.

The Raggedyman

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