Spiderhead (MA, 106 minutes)
This new-to-Netflix psychological thriller about a drug testing program has big budget vibes, enormous stars and the director of the hottest film at the box office - Top Gun: Maverick.
It is shot in part in a glorious tropical island locale and with expensive studio sets, and yet on closer inspection, it's the exact kind of film you might shoot during another COVID lockdown, as the set-up of scientists examining patients separates its cast from sneezing all over each other by thick windows of glass.
Very clever, Netflix.
Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernik, responsible for some of the funnier big-screen dialogue of recent years with credits including Deadpool and Zombieland, waste that comedic talent by going all serious, adapting the short story "Escape From Spiderhead" by George Saunders, first published in the New Yorker.
In a futuristic prison on a remote island, prisoners are living in a kind of free-range luxury instead of locked cells, on the condition they participate in a drug-testing program.
Designer of the drug, and of the program, is Dr Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth), who works in the program's central laboratory alongside his assistant Verlaine (Mark Paguio).
The inmates have a "MobiPack" installed at the base of their spine, and it is from this the science experiment can issue shots of various drugs.
One seems to make you laugh, to the point of uncontrollability. One seems to fill the patients with an apocalyptic level of despondency.
And one, as Abnesti's latest patient/prisoner Jeff (Miles Teller) discovers, creates a strong sense of love which, dialled up to the right level, can also make the participants tear each others' clothes off and shag like there is no tomorrow.
Jeff, haunted by memories of the car crash in which he killed his two best friends, is put through the sex experiment with a number of the prison's female subjects - and the film's biggest laugh comes when he is later put in a room with a fearsome tattooed bloke (Nathan Jones who was "Ricktus Erector" in Mad Max: Fury Road) and is terrified about which of the experiments they're about to enact.
When Abnesti begins sampling his own supply, the program takes a new turn.
Because he's just so damned handsome, it takes a while to realise that Hemsworth is the villain in this film.
You don't want him to be the villain, you want to love him as much as you do Thor, but then that's what makes the best villains.
It's why handsome people make such successful used care salesmen.
You understand why Hemsworth would have been attracted to the production.
For someone whose career success is initially attributed to that jawline and those muscles, the man wants you to understand that he can also emote, and he has range.
And he does.
Theatre types might dismiss Home and Away and Neighbours as acting schools, but those kids have to laugh and cry on camera five days a week for years and years, as opposed to work on one or two stage plays a semester like the drama-school raised thespians.
They know how to get it done, and efficiently.
There's a reason Hollywood headlines our Hemsworths and Robbies and Weavings, and it is this workmanship craft and ethic they learned the hard way, on Ramsay Street and on the beaches of Summer Bay.
Hemsworth was giving me Michael Douglas vibes in this film, from A Chorus Line, always leaning into a microphone to throw a barbed line.
Cinematographer Claudio Miranda makes the most of the production team's impressive set construction and lighting work, because the film feels atmospheric despite its concrete and glass sets.
Director Joseph Kosinski gives a sense of pace throughout and makes economic use of a very well-staged, and CGI-ed, car crash scene but recycling it throughout the film, in the memory of one of the program participants.
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