If you’ve somehow slept on the excellent writer George Saunders, now is a great moment to catch up. On June 17, Netflix drops a new chilling sci-fi thriller called Spiderhead, starring Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, and Chris Hemsworth in one of his most compelling roles ever. If you like Black Mirror, but perhaps with a bit more heart, this cyberpunk-ish movie is thrilling, dangerous, and fascinating.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski (who just did Top Gun: Maverick!) Spiderhead is actually directly adapted from a short story by George Saunders called “Escape From Spiderhead.” Although the movie takes a few liberties with the short story, it’s a surprisingly faithful take, which captures the bleak humor and the creepy Twilight Zone vibe of what Saunders put on the page. The new Netflix film Spiderhead is co-produced by the New Yorker, which was also the magazine that first published “Escape From Spiderhead” back in 2010.
Read “Escape from Spiderhead” online
If you want to read this darkly twisted Saunders story before checking out the Netflix movie, head over to the New Yorker where you can read the story online totally for free right here.
This story also appeared in the 2013 George Saunders short story collection Tenth of December. Again, if you’ve never read Saunders, the best way to think of his is like if Kurt Vonnegut was slightly more twisted and twice as witty. Not all of Saunders's stories are as dark as “Escape from Spiderhead,” but his best stuff usually mixes a bit of the phantasmagorical along with something true and introspective.
If you like Tenth of December, then you can either head back and read Saunders’s brilliant (and hilarious) collection Pastoralia (2001) or his affecting novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (2017).
Spiderhead might not be the most uplifting movie of the year, but it’s one of the most interesting. Both the movie and stories of George Saunders offer something that’s hard to find in good fiction: A strange kind of catharsis within a haunting tale.
Spiderhead streams on Netflix on June 17.