Per Netflix is confusing proprietary data in the first week after release Spiderhead was seen for a collective 35 million hours. Theoretically, any sci-fi head should be thrilled by the existence of a lavishly made sci-fi success without a franchise, built on the work of a unique American weirdo. But Spiderhead is mostly bad and it’s a skirt. For even beyond the potential of Saunders’ history, there is a lot to work with here.
In America in 2022, it is absolutely possible, depending on your socioeconomic status, to read a piece of investigative journalism about a bizarre prison experiment and tsk-tsk or horribly experience it directly for yourself. An extremely superficial search shows this piece from the summer of 2021, in Arkansas, approx. four men in treatment for Covid-19: “They quickly began to suffer from a number of side effects, including vision problems, diarrhea, bloody stools and stomach cramps. It was only later that they discovered that without their consent they had been prescribed significantly high doses of ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that commonly used in domestic animals. “
In Kosinksi’s hands, the material is treated with reactive bombast. If you get experimented on, you will eventually have to beat someone. In Saunders’ hands, the honest answer is more of an … endlessly silent cry of horror? I can’t help but think about how another, less physically well-founded set of actors could have handled Saunders’ stuff. Actors who can easily seem cowed and / or ruined by the world. Jesse Eisenberg? Michael Shannon? Jessie Buckley?
By comparing Spiderhead the film to its source material, wrote Mashable“Saunders’ short story had the potential to become an enclosed, introspective sci-fi chamber piece in the style of Ex machine. “It’s a good comparison, especially reminiscent of the latter film loved the dance scene.
Ex machine‘s director, Alex Garland, has said that scene came from an instinct to put something in his film “it just sets the tone and woke people up.” You can laugh at that; you have to laugh at it. Within Ex machine‘s constant creeping fear that is – this. Whatever this is.
It also makes me think of the sci-fi-y Charlie Kaufman movies, or Bong Joon-at happily over-the-top Snow piersor the recent work-life-balance equation Resignation: All of them are often, or primarily, ridiculous. IN Black mirror‘s first episode gets a head of state blackmailed into having sex with a pig on TV. It’s an objectively silly premise; it’s my favorite episode of the series. When sci-fi is not obsessed with major manic conflicts, it can get a little silly and very good.
Spiderhead‘s ultimate sin is its ending, which is a clap-action set piece through which every great character ultimately ensures their “correct” fate. It should be noted, however, that Saunders’ short story makes a similar mistake by offering the main character a (much more complicated) way out of the horror. If sci-fi at its best does not reflect what it’s like to be alive right now, but how it feels as, then, the honest move is to let the same dumb scream roll on forever.