Chris Hemsworth in Joseph Kosinski’s Genre Bender – The Hollywood Reporter


In real life, there would probably be no shortage of people willing to commit crimes if it meant the freedom to walk around a minimum-security prison and be given psychedelic drugs administered by Chris Hemsworth. So it’s no stretch to accept the imaginative premise of Netflix’s almost unclassifiable new film starring the MCU veteran with Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett.

Based on a short story by George Saunders, Joseph Kosinski’s spider head could be categorized as science fiction, except its central conceit isn’t that far removed from our “better living through chemistry” reality. It’s sometimes a thriller, but also a wickedly funny dark comedy. And it features a nostalgia-inducing yacht rock soundtrack that slyly comments on the action.

spider head

The essential

An unclassifiable good time.

Release date: Friday, June 17

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, Mark Paguio, Tess Haubrich, Angie Milliken, Stephen Tongun

Director: Joseph Kosinsky

Screenwriters: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Rated R, 1 hour 46 minutes

Hemsworth, wearing wire-rimmed glasses to establish his character’s intellectual bona fides, plays Steve Abnesti, a scientist who runs a state-of-the-art penitentiary where inmates aren’t locked behind bars or forced to wear orange jumpsuits. In exchange for their relative freedom, they each have surgical implants in their backs through which Abnesti and his dedicated assistant (Mark Paguio) can administer mind-altering drugs in a series of experiments. Abnesti apparently plays it strictly by his rules, ensuring his subjects use the words “I acknowledge” so that they are technically operating with their own free will.

Free will, however, does not appear in the results. Infused with the appropriate drug, subjects engage in programmed responses, such as rubbing themselves suddenly and wildly after receiving “Luvactin”. Drug names are part of the fun, with “Darkenfloxx” creating terrifying thoughts, “Phobica” reducing someone to acting like a stapler is the scariest thing in the world, “Verbaluce” promoting more expressive language and “Laffodil” acting like, you guessed it, laughing gas.

One of Abnesti’s favorite subjects is Jeff (Miles Teller, working with Kosinski for the third time, most recently in a little movie you may have heard of called Top Gun: Maverick), incarcerated for manslaughter after a drunk car accident in which his best friend was killed. The pair share a certain bond, though Jeff draws the line when he thinks he’s about to get injected with the love drug with a massively tattooed male inmate (Nathan Jones, as funny as he is scary ).

It’s not hard to tell where the story is going. Abnesti also turns out to be a mad scientist, but not devoid of humor: “This Nobel is not going to win itself”, he comments while preparing one of his experiments. Things eventually start to go wrong as he seeks more control over his human guinea pigs, with one of his female subjects (Tess Haubrich) committing suicide after an injection. “It wasn’t his best moment,” admits Abnesti. Jeff becomes increasingly determined to turn things around, especially when the experiments begin to threaten a fellow inmate (Jurnee Smollett) with whom he has formed an intense personal relationship.

The film doesn’t quite manage to navigate its stylistic twists, feeling too familiar by the time it reaches its action-packed final act. But it’s imaginative fun along the way, thanks to the bold premise and clever screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (dead Pool, zombieland) who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Teller and Smollett deliver grounded and emotionally engaged performances that keep us fully invested in the fate of their likable characters. Hemsworth, however, opts for the baroque. It might not have been the most appropriate casting, since the actor looks less like a scientist and more like a perfect human specimen created in a laboratory. But just like he does as Thor in the Marvel movies, he plays against his physique with a disarming deadpan humor that makes him surprisingly relatable. When his Abnesti does an exuberant solo dance in his private quarters, you’re almost rooting for him to win the much-desired Nobel Prize.

For even more fun, tongue-in-cheek musical selections, including “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates and “Crazy Love” by Poco, will have the Boomers singing along. And let’s just say, you’ll never hear Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Silence” the same way again.

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