Skip to main content

Spiderhead review: Chris Hemsworth shines in slick thriller

Netflix hasn’t found much middle ground when it comes to high-profile original films. The projects produced by the streaming studio have typically been critical darlings that generate heaps of awards buzz (i.e., Mank or Roma) or forgettable flops that deliver the Hollywood equivalent of setting a mountain of money on fire. The sci-fi drama Spiderhead is the rare exception, delivering a clever, satisfying thriller that manages to avoid underselling or overselling its premise.

Directed by Top Gun: Maverick filmmaker Joseph Kosinski from a script penned by Deadpool and Zombieland duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, Spiderhead is based on George Saunders’ short story Escape from Spiderhead. The film casts Marvel Studios veteran Chris Hemsworth as the overseer of a futuristic, free-roaming prison where the inmates have volunteered for tests with experimental, emotion-controlling drugs in exchange for reduced sentences. Miles Teller (Top Gun: MaverickWhiplash) portrays a prisoner who begins to suspect something is amiss in the experiments and attempts to find a way to protect both himself and a fellow inmate he cares for, who is played by Jurnee Smollett (Lovecraft Country).

Chris Hemsworth stares through a large glass window in a scene from Spiderhead.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

On the surface, Spiderhead could be played in two very different ways. On one hand, the film has all the necessary ingredients for a dark satire of the prison industrial complex and the pharmaceutical industry. On the flip side, there’s plenty of potential for a straightforward thriller given the cast and creative team involved in the film. Spiderhead opts for the latter, and while it would be interesting to explore the setup’s satirical potential, it plays remarkably well as a more traditional, tense drama with some light sci-fi accents.

Hemsworth is in rare form in the film, which gives him the opportunity to channel all of the charisma that made him one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes into a character on the opposite side of the moral divide. His Spiderhead character, research scientist Steve Abnesti, is a brilliant, sociopathic narcissist who puts all of Hemsworth’s charm to sinister use in the film, and the MCU actor steals every scene he’s in with a smug grin and snappy dialogue that take the edge off every horrible, manipulative act his character commits.

Jurnee Smollett and Miles Teller sit at a table, holding hands, in a scene from Spiderhead.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Teller and Smollett also deliver fine — if not particularly standout — performances as the star-crossed inmates who find themselves at the center of Abnesti’s latest experiment. Their characters are intended to exist in a constant state of semi-dazed compliance due to the cocktail of drugs they’re subjected to on a daily basis, but when the story calls upon them to explore more extreme points on the emotional spectrum, they give those moments all the intensity they demand.

In a supporting role, Mark Paguio also adds a surprising amount of depth to his portrayal of Abnesti’s assistant at the prison, who finds himself increasingly troubled by their experiments. Paguio’s character could have easily slipped into the background of the story, but he brings a genuine sense of conflict to his character that provides a great counterpoint to Hemsworth’s performance in many of their scenes together.

Chris Hemsworth smirks in front of a mi crophone in a scene from Spiderhead.
Netflix

Although Spiderhead goes to some dark places in its narrative, it manages to keep its head above water while doing so, and never gets bogged down in what could have been some heavy philosophical pondering of morality, grief, forgiveness, and so many other complicated themes. It’s a film that seems to have a clear picture of what it wants to be, and it competently delivers a suspenseful, thrilling story without any extraneous decoration or narrative meandering. That sort of efficiency isn’t exactly common in Hollywood these days, and makes Spiderhead feel uniquely satisfying when the story wraps up.

Moody, smart, and entertaining, Spiderhead isn’t likely to be Netflix’s next awards darling, but it doesn’t aspire to be. Instead, it delivers an entertaining thriller that checks all the boxes for a rewarding film experience — and that’s OK too.

Sci-fi thriller Spiderhead premieres June 17 on Netflix streaming service.

Spiderhead (2022)

Spiderhead
107m
Genre
Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars
Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett
Directed by
Joseph Kosinski
Watch on Netflix

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
5 sci-fi movies on Netflix you need to watch in March
Godzilla stands above a city in terror.

Netflix continues to bolster its sci-fi library with a wide selection of films. Right now, one of the most popular sci-fi franchises on Netflix is Jurassic Park. Witnessing the moment when Dr. Grant watches the dinosaurs for the first time is still a breathtaking scene. Other sci-fi blockbusters making the rounds on Netflix include Meg 2: The Trench, Rebel Moon, and Ready Player One.

Below, we picked five sci-fi movies to watch in March. One of our picks is Spaceman, a new sci-fi drama starring Adam Sandler as a lonely astronaut who bonds with an extraterrestrial creature. Other films on our list include an underrated mystery from 2023, a visually appealing monster movie, and a fun sequel to an independent action film.
They Cloned Tyrone (2023)

Read more
Like Netflix’s Spaceman with Adam Sandler? Then watch these three great sci-fi movies now
Adam Sandler walks through a jungle in Spaceman

When watching Netflix's new sci-fi drama Spaceman, be prepared for a side of Adam Sandler you rarely see. Sandler plays Jakub Procházka, an astronaut sent on a solo mission to the solar system's edge. Six months into his mission, Jakub contemplates if his marriage to his wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), can be saved upon returning to Earth. With no other human on the ship, Jakub confides in Hanuš, (voiced by Paul Dano), an extraterrestrial spider who helps the astronaut work through his problems.

Ultimately, Spaceman is a film about self-discovery as a man seeks to change his ways before it's too late. Spaceman begins streaming on March 1 on Netflix. If you're looking for similar movies, consider watching these three films, including a dramatic showcase for Brad Pitt, an underrated biopic, and a time-traveling saga.
Ad Astra (2019)

Read more
5 sci-fi movies on Netflix you need to watch in February
Milla Jovovich holds a gun and points it to the sky.

Looking for sci-fi to watch in February? Netflix has arguably one of the best libraries of sci-fi in all of streaming. Netflix subscribers can watch Dune, Jurassic Park, Gravity, Pacific Rim, and other sci-fi classics. Netflix also has several subgenres –romantic, action, drama, and anime – to satisfy the needs of sci-fi fans.

This month, we spotlighted five sci-fi movies you must watch in February. One of our selections is Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's novel. Other movies to watch in February include another Spielberg-helmed film, a spinoff sequel of a smash hit, and an underrated magical mystery.
Ready Player One (2018)

Read more