This Compact Sci-Fi Drama Reveals the ‘Black Mirror’ Problem

In the new Netflix sci-fi drama spider head, Chris Hemsworth must ask permission before drugging someone. The test subjects are prisoners with almost no rights, and the creeps with which Hemsworth asks “Drip on? Recognize?” sends shivers down the spine. This guy is neither Thor nor George Kirk.

The world of spider head is barely sci-fi, closer to the present of a tech drama like Breakup. And although spider head might fly under the radar, it’s stacked with skill and smarts, making it a must-have psychological sci-fi thriller.

First published in the new yorker in 2010 as “Escape From Spiderhead”, this story written by George Saunders was also included in his 2013 hit collection ten december. If you’ve slept on Saunders, his ability to spin spooky and sometimes comically dark alternate worlds is unparalleled. If the humor of Kurt Vonnegut were fused with the horror of Stephen King and the tragic beauty of Ray Bradbury, you’d have something akin to Saunders’ uncomfortable view of best fiction. He is best known for his 2017 novel Lincoln at Bardo, about Abraham Lincoln’s time in the Buddhist space between death and rebirth, but for fans of literary sci-fi, Saunders’ short stories are a revelation.

spider head uses its artistic and literary roots to demonstrate its understated brilliance. Unlike many episodes of black mirrorwhere a kind of cautious technological panic lurks beneath the surface, spider head heartbreaking story is not about how technology has corrupted or dehumanized us. Instead, it’s a much weirder meditation on the nature and context of emotions. Yes, there are sci-fi drugs. And yes, there is a massive and sordid human experiment. But even though Chris Hemsworth’s character seems like the mad scientist at the center of it all, his character is far more interesting than a ready-made cliche.

Like Steve Abnesti, Hemsworth is lucid and full of charm. He’s also an emotional butcher, harvesting all the data he needs, even if it destroys people’s lives. fans of Ex-Machina might recall Oscar Isaac’s creepy performance as similar to what Hemsworth does here. Hemsworth is scarier because he almost never cracks. It is in his measured calm that he breathes terror.

Like an Easter egg, an inmate named Rogan reads a copy of December ten.netflix

True to the news, Abenesti is in charge of experiments in a prison that has a control room called “The Spiderhead”. Our substitute audience is Jeff (Miles Teller), a remorseful inmate who seems intent on pleasing his captor but also desperately wants to escape. Jeff’s story is not only made of twists and turns.

Again, unlike black mirror Where Breakup, you don’t just watch to discover a secret. Yes, there are big twists, but the reason spider head is good isn’t it shocking or dragging you into some kind of dark mystery. Instead, the film gives you a premise that takes place in the present and invites you to worry about what happens next.

Jurnee Smollett and Miles Teller in spider head.netflix

It may seem odd to rent a movie to just focus on its story. But spider head stands out for easy comparison with black mirror simply because it doesn’t just rely on a dark twist or a dark statement about how awful people are. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (tron the legacy, Top Gun: Maverick), with a screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, which makes spider head so compelling is the fact that hope exists in the midst of all its darkness.

In another universe, Netflix could have expanded spider head in Breakupstyle television series, with new characters, stories and a variety of twists. But, in a world of far too long sci-fi dramas, it’s a wonder that spider head exist. It’s a modest sci-fi tragedy that brilliantly honors its sources. Sometimes a movie about an idea is all you need.

spider head arrives on Netflix on June 17, 2022.