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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Love conquers all. Good people can do bad things and make mistakes. There's no magic pill to make us forget or forgive the past; it's something we have to learn to do on our own. If everyone acted for the greater good rather than individual interest, the world would be a better place.
Positive Role Models
Steve is inhumanely testing pharmaceutical products on prisoners who feel they have no choice but to participate. He plays mind games, manipulates people's feelings. Mark thought his work would contribute to a higher purpose, but his conscience tells him that it's not. Jeff and Lizzy have both done things they feel great sadness and shame for, but they also care about each other. Jeff demonstrates empathy for others too.
Some racial diversity in core cast (Jurnee Smollett is Black, Mark Paguio is Filipino) and in supporting roles.
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Violence & Scariness
As part of a testing process, people are injected with substances that alter their behavior. One drug makes people feel physically and emotionally terrible, and they act out in violence, including two suicide attempts shown on-screen (and one death). A car accident played in someone's memory leads to two deaths, including one person burned alive, another thrown from the car. A plane crashes into a mountainside. Discussion of a variety of murders. Fist-and knife fights.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
People kiss and have sex. No body parts are shown, but it's obvious by actions and noises what's happening (and two people are watching). Someone makes a joke about fetishes. People are asked to judge each other on appearances.
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Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "suck," "goddamn it," "bitch," "ass," "anal," "stupid." "Jesus" is used as an exclamation.
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Products & Purchases
A few brands are seen: Etch A Sketch, Mariners, Mustang.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Premise involves a scientist injecting people with drugs that make them feel strong emotions that he can control. He seems dependent on one of the drugs himself. Some prisoners in the facility have a history of substance abuse. A scene flashes back to a party with people drinking heavily, then driving drunk. Two characters share a nightcap.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Spiderhead is a mature sci-fi drama based on a dystopian short story by George Saunders. A scientist tests a series of drugs on prisoners, controlling their moods and behaviors (he seems dependent on one of the drugs himself). Sometimes the substances lead to sexual acts, other times to violence, including two suicide attempts shown on-screen (one of which ends in a bloody death). Additional violence involves fist- and knife fights, discussion of murder, a graphic fatal car accident, and a plane crash. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "goddamn it," "bitch," "Jesus," and more. The story raises interesting questions about human behavior, since it has both good people who've done bad things and are now grappling with shame and regret and people who manipulate and hurt others under the guise of kind intentions. Miles Teller and Chris Hemsworth co-star. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
The short story-inspired concept for this film turns out to be too thin to carry a whole movie, but it still mostly works thanks to engaging performances from stars Hemsworth and Teller. The two convincingly display the wide range of emotions brought on by both powerful drugs and extreme circumstances. Spiderhead is ultimately a story about human behavior: what people are capable of, what inspires good and bad deeds, how we each come to terms with our actions, and the age-old question of whether the world would be a better place if we could control the actions of others.
Of course, a movie can't fully answer questions like these, but it can raise them in interesting ways. While Steve's motives seem to boil down to childhood abandonment issues, the prisoners' questioning of why they keep consenting to being experimented on opens up a lot to think about. Unfortunately, this is left largely unexplored, and the film comes to a somewhat abrupt closure. The laboratory setting in a vast concrete building contrasts with the warm, feel-good '70s and '80s tunes and the occasional views of a gorgeous surrounding landscape. That tonal confusion, paralleled in Hemsworth's smarmy salesman-slash-evil-mastermind performance, could unsettle viewers (as it's likely meant to). Or it could leave them indifferent, somewhere right in the middle of the story's swinging moods.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.