How is Netflix’s ‘Spider Head’ different from ‘Escape from the Spider’s Head’?

In the credits of the Netflix sci-fi thriller Spider tell us this movie is based on a short story by George Saunders “Escape from the Spider’s Head”, originally published in New Yorker. And while the movie borrows from the main plot of the story – prisoners in a high-tech prison volunteer to be tested for emotion-altering drugs – the end result is very, very free adaptation.

Some things remain the same. Both the film and the story play with a darkly comedic tone. Our two leads remain prisoner Jeff (Miles Teller) and scientist overseeing the experiment, Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth). However, others are completely different. They range from small ones (such as Abnesti’s name being Steve instead of Ray for some reason) to wildly large ones (the entire third act).

Here are all the biggest ways Spider different from “Escape from the Spider’s Head”.

Warning: The following contains massive spoilers for both the movie and the story. Confirm, then read on.


Spider Head Review: Does Netflix Consider It Worth Watching?

What is a “spider head” anyway?

A small white seaplane lands in the ocean next to a brutalist building on a tropical island.

On the way to Spiderhead.
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Immediately in the story and in the movie, there are different versions of what “Spider Head” means. In the movie, Spider Head is the name of the penitentiary/research facility where Abnesti’s experiments are carried out. It is located on a beautiful tropical island, far from civilization.

“Escape from the Spider’s Head” gives us very few details about the prison, including the name. Instead, the inmates and Abnesti refer to the prison’s control room as the Spider’s Head, due to the various work rooms that protrude from it like spider legs. It is also implied that this prison is one of several departments where similar experiments are carried out. And it’s located in not-so-tropical Utica, New York.

These changes, while small, make sense from an aesthetic standpoint: Spiderhead is a cool name, use it! And if you have the budget to go somewhere in the tropics where you can shoot boat chases and plane crashes, I think you should use that too.

Why is Jeff in jail? Spider?

Reason for Jeff’s incarceration Spider is radically different from his crime in Escape from Spiderhead. The film establishes that Jeff is in Spiderhead on two counts of manslaughter: he was driving drunk and crashed his car, killing both passengers, including his girlfriend Emma (B.B. Betancourt).

The mournful phone calls she and Jeff make to her are an addition to the film alone. Perhaps they are meant to add an extra layer of guilt and regret to his character, because in Escape the Spider Head, Jeff kills someone.

He is 19 years old, drunk and fighting someone much smaller than him. Realizing that he is losing, he hits the enemy with a brick. Jeff can’t fully explain why he did it, but he knows he regrets it.

The gloom of Jeff’s angry murder interests me much more than what we get. Spider. AT Spider, the manslaughter, and the involvement of his girlfriend show that the film struggles to make Jeff a sympathetic, tragic hero. There’s room for that in the original too, especially since Jeff considers the possibility that he could be responsible for more deaths (more on that later).

Spider gives a ton more Abnesti (so a ton more Chris Hemsworth)

A man in a suit and glasses stands in a room with a spiral staircase.

This guy is bad news, but he’s fun to watch.
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Since Saunders narrates “Escape from the Spider Head” entirely from Jeff’s point of view, we never see Abnesti other than as directed by him. He doesn’t interact with the inmates, and he certainly doesn’t carry his own MobiPak, a device that dispenses mood-altering chemicals at the touch of a button. But if you have Chris Hemsworth, you better make the most of it. Spider definitely does by reinforcing its role.

My favorite element of this expansion (besides Hemsworth’s funky dance) is the fact that we’re witnessing just how fanatical Abnesti is. He is still just as manipulative and cunning as he was in the story, but now we can see how much he believes in his work. Was his backstory about being abandoned by his father a little boring? Of course. Is it interesting to watch him inject himself with his own compounds and devote himself entirely to a terrifying cause? Absolutely.

Lizzie, welcome Spider

Emma is joined in the new character club by Lizzie (Jurnie Smollett). Basically, she’s only in the movie so that Jeff can have a love interest. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t use Smollett enough to its own detriment.

A huge part of “Escape from the Spider’s Head” is that Jeff doesn’t have feelings for any of the other inmates in the prison. This includes the two women he has sex with, Heather and Rachel (called “Sarah” in Spider). Even though he doesn’t like them, Jeff doesn’t want to give any of them Darkenflox, a drug that causes intense mental and physical pain. Jeff doesn’t want anyone to experience this. But after seeing Heather commit suicide to avoid the effects of the drug, he absolutely doesn’t want Rachel to take the dose.

In the film, Jeff’s turning point comes when his lover Lizzie is threatened with a dose of Darkenflox. Adding a love interest like Lizzie could up the ante in the film’s third act. But the dilemma of injecting someone with lethal drugs is hard enough in itself. A clumsy love story doesn’t add too much.

SpiderPlot twist OBDX is a new invention, a kind of

A man and a woman sit at a table holding hands.

Lizzie and Jeff are tied up in prison.
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The main experiment in “Escape from the Spider Head” aims to induce and then erase the feeling of love, but Spider says “Forget it, it’s all about free will baby!” It turns out that the real purpose of the movie “Abnesti” is to try to improve the drug known as “B-6” or “OBDX”, which would cause complete obedience. (He’s also trying to fill up a drug bingo card. It’s all movie-only stuff.)

The OBDX change is interesting because Escape the Spider Head already has an obedience drug. It’s called Docilryde and Abnesti wants to use it to force Jeff into submission and inject Darkenfloxx into Rachel.

Spider screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick likely got the idea for OBDX – and Abnesti’s new motives – from Dosilride, who, while sounding very sinister, is never actually mentioned in the story. However, a side effect of his inclusion in the film is a completely different ending than Saunders’ story.

The ending Spider compared to the ending of “Escape from the Spider’s Head”

Congratulations to Jeff Spider for surviving because Jeff from Escape from Spiderhead is gone.

About to be forced to take Darkenfloxx Rachel, Jeff injects himself with the medicine and dies by suicide. As he dies, a voice tells him that he can come back to life, but he chooses not to. He didn’t kill Rachel and never will again.

It’s a pretty dark ending compared to Spideran action-packed ending in which Jeff drugs Abnesti (new), Jeff and Lizzie escape the island in a boat (also new), and Abnesti dies in a drugged plane crash (definitely new).

I understand that adapting a short story into a film entails the desire to create a grand spectacle. However, turns in SpiderThe third act feels outdated and cartoonish compared to the creeping horror of Saunders’ finale. There we realize that Jeff’s “escape” is actually death. Here we understand that Jeff pulled a predictable deception and that the authorities will come to save the day. It just doesn’t have the same impact and isn’t particularly interesting.

Final verdict

A bald tattooed man is reading a collection of short stories by George Saunders.

Hey, look, he’s reading a George Saunders storybook!
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To my credit Spider is working hard to capture Saunders’ dark comedy Escape from the Spider’s Head, and all the scenes of the experiments play out quite close to the scenes in the story. However, when the film goes beyond the experimental framework, it runs into some problems. Some expansions, such as more of Abnesti, work to the film’s advantage. Others, such as Lizzy, Jeff’s past, and the entire ending, fail due to cliches and haste.

It all comes down to the potential of Escape from Spider Head compared to the final product, which is mediocre from Netflix. Spider. Saunders’ story could have been a restrained, introspective sci-fi chamber work in the vein of From the car. However, Spider torn between subtle sci-fi and big action blockbuster that doesn’t live up to the source material.

In the end, neither version of the film comes together, resulting in a rather lackluster adaptation. You might like it more if you took a dose of Laffodil. Who will say?

Spider(will open in a new tab) now streaming on Netflix(will open in a new tab).

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