“Spiderhead” is directed by Joseph Kosinski, written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and is based on George Saunders’s short, “Escape from Spiderhead.” The titular facility is run by Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) and his assistant, Verlaine (Mark Paguio). It’s home to prisoners from all over the United States of America who are being experimented upon by Abnesti. Every inmate has a pack of drugs attached to their lower back, and its dosage is controlled by Abnesti, but only when the inmate says “acknowledge.” Jeff (Miles Teller) is one such criminal who has participated in this program. However, after the death of one of his colleagues, if we can call them that, he starts to doubt that Abnesti isn’t sure about what he’s doing.
How Does Jeff Realize That Steve Isn’t The Pharmaceutical Genius He Claims To Be?
The beginning of the movie pretty much exposes Steve’s diabolical nature. He injects Ray (Stephen Tongun) with a drug called G-46 (it induces laughter and is dubbed “Laffodil”). Steve cracks some jokes that make Ray laugh uncontrollably. Then Verlaine starts talking about the Rwandan genocide and how he’s facing four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. They consider it a success when Ray can’t stop laughing at that too. Steve puts a gold star on something, which is later revealed to be a bingo card that he uses to name the drugs that he’s creating. This little test shows that Steve is trying to make sure that his drugs override any cognitive skills and that the user is totally in control of the person administering said drugs.
Steve makes Jeff form a physical relationship with Heather (Tess Haubrich) and Sarah (Angie Milliken). Unbeknownst to him, this causes a rift between Jeff and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), something that Steve finds out about later, though. And then, he asks Jeff to decide who is going to get the drug called I-16 (nicknamed Darkenfloxx) between Heather and Sarah, causing them to writhe in pain and fear. It is presented as a test to see if Jeff has formed any kind of emotion for Heather or Sarah. But Steve realizes that Jeff is asking him to not administer the drug to either of them because of his own repulsion towards the drug. He doesn’t press Jeff any further. He does give Heather the same choice later, while putting Jeff and Rogan (Nathan Jones) in front of her, and that angers Jeff, as he feels betrayed.
Like the manipulative man he is, Steve calms Jeff down by reminding him about all the times he has helped him and makes him get on with the program. 40 minutes into the film, on the day he’s going to force Jeff to decide on the Darkenfloxx injection, Jeff finds out that even Steve is fitted with a pack (like the inmates) and is taking the drugs too. Jeff appears apologetic about it, but Steve politely tells him to not barge in on him like this again. Then he takes Jeff to the Spiderhead HQ and tells him to decide if Heather should get the Darkenfloxx. But, despite being high on Verbulace (which is the drug for eloquence), Jeff refuses. Steve gets particularly adamant about Jeff deciding for himself. When Jeff tells him to take a decision on his behalf, Steve (after taking a trip to the pantry, which reveals that there’s no authority that Steve has to answer to) Darkenfloxxes Heather.
Heather shows the usual symptoms of Darkenfloxx. She vomits, throws a fit, and then starts slamming herself against the wall. One of the hits on the wall makes the pack of drugs malfunction, causing Heather to overdose. She becomes violent, and after breaking a piece of furniture, she kills herself by slitting her throat. Steve and Verlaine rush to see if she’s alive, and on his way out, Steve drops his keys to the drawer where he keeps his diary. Jeff notices that and uses it to access the diary and read it. The first thing he notices is the structural formula for something called O-B-D-X. Then he sees the letterhead that says Abnesti Pharmaceuticals, thereby confirming that Steve is the judge, jury, and executioner over at Spiderhead. Finally, he finds out that he’s using a BINGO card to decide the names of the drugs. And that he’s still unsure about N-40 and B-6, because they don’t have a gold star over them (which is an indicator of what works and what doesn’t).
What Are The Real Backstories Of Steve, Jeff, And Lizzy?
After Heather’s death, Steve tells Verlaine to take a break and sits down with Jeff to talk about how he’s doing. Steve justifies his actions by saying that they are dealing with unknown scientific material. He says that he’s broken up about the consequences of this experiment, but he knows that, in the long run, the work that Spiderhead is doing will help ease suffering, and it’ll save many lives. That harks back to his earlier explanation of how they are attempting to cure loneliness (which is equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to Steve) with N-40, which will make its users feel loved and love others. Steve, in an attempt to get Jeff on his side, asks him if he can help him with his sadness. At Jeff’s request, the two of them get high on Laffodil, and that’s when Steve spills how his father left him at foster care and never came to take him back.
Steve tries to spin this as him and Jeff becoming friends. But Jeff points out that Steve is free to go out of that facility any time he wants, while Jeff is still a prisoner and a criminal. Steve says that he can’t get out of there either because he is so in love with the work he’s doing at Spiderhead. But maybe he is insinuating that if he goes out of there, he’s going to be tried for his unethical practices. After that, we see Steve inflicting Darkenfloxx on Lizzy, which causes her to be scared of a stapler. Lizzy goes to Jeff for some comfort after that, and that’s when Jeff tells us his true story. Although we’ve been shown that Jeff crashed his car, killing his friend only, he reveals that the crash not only killed his friend but his girlfriend Emma (BeBe Bettencourt) as well. Hence, he was accused of voluntary manslaughter. He says that he says “acknowledge” every time to pay for this sin he committed.
Later that night, Steve notices that Jeff and Lizzy are in love. So, he forces Jeff to administer the Darkenfloxx on Lizzy. Jeff vehemently refuses. Assuming that Verlaine has “doubled the dose” of the drug called B-6, Steve brings back Jeff to administer the Darkenfloxx to her. He even gives him the remote to control the drug levels. Jeff refuses, again, because he is in love with her. So, Steve forces Lizzy to tell her truth to Jeff so that he can feel free to Darkenfloxx her. That sends Lizzy over the edge, and she blurts out that she’s the mother who killed her child. She reveals that she left her nine-month-old daughter in her car while she went to work at Walmart for three hours. She’s in for one count of reckless endangerment and one count of manslaughter. She says that if Jeff thinks he’s going to hurt her, he should know he can’t because she has to wake up every day to the fact that her daughter is dead and she killed her.
‘Spiderhead’ Ending Explained: Is Steve Really Dead? And Are Jeff And Lizzy Truly Free?
Before entering the final Darkenfloxx session with Steve and Lizzy, Jeff confronts Verlaine and asks him about the red vial in the pack of drugs. Verlaine lies that it’s a placebo, but Jeff calls his bluff and tells him that he knows all about Steve. Jeff asks him why he is in a place like Spiderhead, and he says that he thought he was going to change the world with Steve, since he thinks he’s a genius. Jeff says that he can help, and Verlaine takes a leave of absence by saying that he is sick (he’s actually going to get the police who can arrest Steve for his criminal work). That’s why Steve puts Jeff in charge of controlling the drug remote, without knowing that Verlaine has spiked his drug pack with Darkenfloxx. Jeff begins to control Steve with Laffodil, Phobica, and then the Darkenfloxx. After incapacitating Steve, Jeff gets his diary out to ask him what his master plan is.
Jeff figures out that B-6 is the drug that causes the inmates to be more obedient. The free-to-move surroundings, that Steve so proudly states is a privilege, are an illusion. The inmates are under Steve’s control without their knowing it. Since Jeff was getting immune to it, Steve told Verlaine to “double his dose.” Because Verlaine didn’t, Jeff is in control of himself after a long time. He administers the B-6 drug to Steve, and he reveals that the name of the drug was going to be Obediex. He says that the goal was absolute obedience without exceptions. He didn’t put a gold star on it because he had yet to make sure that the inmates were saying yes to things antithetical to their deepest values and emotions. It can force anyone to do anything. Painting it as the “greater good,” he plans to release it into the world so that free will doesn’t exist anymore and no one commits mistakes, like death by drunk driving or leaving a kid at a foster care center.
Knowing that he’s on B-6, Jeff orders Steve to reveal to the world what he did to Heather. Steve, as a final stinger, reveals that Jeff and Lizzy’s sentences were canceled seven months ago and one week ago, respectively. Jeff forces Steve to open the front door because they plan to leave ASAP. As Jeff walks away, Steve picks up the pocket knife. Jeff thinks that he’s going to obey him. But Steve says that B-6 doesn’t work when the person is told to kill the one thing they love. The two get into a fight. Steve gets the remote back and injects Lizzy with all four vials of Darkenfloxx, and he breaks the remote. Jeff pushes Steve against the stairwell, causing Steve’s drug pack to malfunction and flood the drugs into his body. Seeing Lizzy strangle herself, Jeff knocks Steve down and goes to save her. He takes all the vials out of her drug pack, and that stops her from killing herself. As Lizzy recovers, she apologizes for lying. Jeff says he loves her, and they start to make their way out of the facility.
Steve orders everyone in the facility to stop Lizzy and Jeff from escaping, while he overdoses on the drugs. As the couple fight the inmates, Steve notices Verlaine coming with the police, packs all the drugs, and makes his way to the airplane. Lizzy and Jeff make it to the docks only to see Steve flying away. They take the boat and drive away. The N-40 kicks in, and Steve starts to see a beautiful sunset instead of the mountain he’s flying into. Jeff and Lizzy notice an explosion in the distance, which indicates that Steve has died in the plane crash. They appear to be shocked at first, but then Lizzy starts chuckling, and so does Jeff. Not like an organic laugh, though, but like the way Ray did at the beginning of the film. She does say that the Sun feels good. Jeff pontificates that he wishes there was a self-forgiveness drug so that people can realize that their life is ahead of them, not behind them. He says that since there’s no drug like that, they’ve to do it on their own.
So, yes, technically, Steve is dead. But the golden rule of entertainment is that if you don’t see a body, the person is not dead. Now, given how Hemsworth has a solid contract with Netflix for his “Extraction” films, there’s a good chance that if “Spiderhead” is received well, they might extend it and bring Steve Abnesti back. We don’t have enough mad scientists in movies right now, and Hemsworth can give this trope some much-needed representation. If Abnesti is, in fact, dead, well, it’s a very fitting one. As for Jeff and Lizzy, I don’t think they are truly free until they get those packs out of their bodies. Because the remote is still in Spiderhead. Who is to say that Verlaine doesn’t turn out to be diabolical and start using the discarded vials or make more from the ones that are in the rest of the inmates’ packs and continue Steve’s plan from Spiderhead? He seems jilted and smart enough to do that. Does it need such a sequel, though? Not really, but we’re living in the era of sequels. Hence, never say never.
“Spiderhead” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Joseph Kosinski.