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Spiderhead Review: Chris Hemsworth's New Action Thriller Has More Brains Than Most Netflix Films

It has twists, turns, and Hemsworth in glasses

Jordan Hoffman
Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, and Mark Paguio, Spiderhead

Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, and Mark Paguio, Spiderhead


There have been times in your life where you maybe skipped lunch and your blood sugar dropped, you were super cranky, then did something you later regretted, like lash out at someone. (Don't try to deny this, it's part of living life.) Afterwards there's a special kind of shame. You begin to wonder, "Is my whole personality — is everything that makes me me — so easily and drastically altered? If I just had a little packet of cashews things, would things have turned out differently?"

This is not, I can assure you, the plot to Spiderhead, a Netflix original from Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski starring Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, and Jurnee Smollett. It comes at a time when the Big Red Streamer is pumping out frequent forgettable action-adventure product with big names, yet after this one was done I found myself pondering the mysteries of life and the human condition. My word, a Netflix movie not released during Oscar season made me think! What will happen next?

Spiderhead is based on a short story by George Saunders, who wrote the best-seller Lincoln in the Bardo, and was first published in The New Yorker magazine. So this is the first time you'll see that snooty New Yorker logo and Chris Hemsworth's name in the same opening credits. The hunky Australian plays Steve Abnesti, a charming, friendly lead scientist at a super sleek medical facility. His patients are prisoner-volunteers who are subjecting themselves to psychological drug tests in exchange for living in some swank, minimum-security digs. The lab is a protrusion of brutalist architecture jutting from an island paradise. Think Jurassic Park, but for mind control.




  • Chris Hemsworth is in fiiiiine form in all ways
  • It's brainier than most Netflix films
  • Joseph Kosinki's visuals make the most during COVID


  • It's not for everyone

We soon meet Jeff (Teller), a nice guy whose one night of poor judgement resulted in catastrophe. But he's a good sport as Abnesti pumps him with various substances, some with fun names like "Verbaluce," which, when a technician moves the dial, forcing a port in the small of a subject's back to release a dosage, floods the part of the brain that houses vocabulary, sparking poetic insights to flow from the tongue.

Other medications, like "Lafodill," cause patients to bust up with laughter regardless of what's happening, but there's also the torment of "Darkenfloxx," an instant bad trip that causes anguish and disorientation. What's still being tweaked, however, is something mankind has been looking for forever: a love potion that can change anyone into a puddle of kindness, or even, if the dial goes up a smidge, a volcano of passion.

Jeff is introduced to various women (played by Tess Haubrich and Angie Milliken) while the technicians futz with his emotions and watch the sparks fly. What's fascinating is how Jeff knows he is being manipulated, commenting on the false setting as it is happening, but is powerless against it. None of the subjects like the treatment, but getting to avoid typical prison, and instead eating catered food and playing coin-op video games while upbeat yacht rock classics play on the PA, is sufficient incentive to continue. When they aren't having their minds scrambled, the vibe is almost like a resort, with comfy earth tone mid-century modern furnishings covering up the geographical isolation.

There come some twists and turns, especially when Smollet's character enters the picture, and eventually we begin to suspect Hemsworth is perhaps not the altruistic genius trying to inaugurate an age of better living through chemistry. How it is all teased out, however, is rather clever.

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And this speaks to the specific issue of "a new Netflix movie." Much like all it takes is a little tweak to our brain's synapses to make a huge impact, just a smidge of intelligence and care really does set this picture apart.

(Think of recent garbage like The Adam Project. Is there anything to chew on in that movie?) In addition to the Clockwork Orange or Philip K. Dick-like subversive science fiction story in Spiderhead, there's the look of this thing. This is very much an obviously "shot during COVID" movie — lots of people in isolated rooms, and none of the extravagant set-pieces of Top Gun: Maverick — but Kosinski uses that to his advantage. The interior spaces are eerie in their openness. All of his movies, including Tron Legacy and Oblivion, have used cool, futuristic spaces, and the underseen Only The Brave (also starring Miles Teller) used vast, empty landscapes like the hidden island seen here.

It's also good to see Chris Hemsworth do some actual acting. We know he can be funny (he's got zings galore in the Marvel movies, and his turn in Ghostbusters was a highlight) but he's in strong form here. He's pure charisma one minute, menacing mad scientist the next. I'd go so far as to say this is the best thing he's ever done. And no, he's not pumping me full of a love drug to get me to say it, either.

Premieres: Friday, June 17 on Netflix
Who's in it: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett
Who's behind it: Joseph Kosinski (director)
For fans of: Thrillers, goofball science, Thor with glasses