Movie Review: Spectral (2016)
“A supernatural Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
Director: Nic Mathieu
Cast: James Badge Dale, Emily Mortimer, Bruce Greenwood
Synopsis: A Special-Ops unit in Moldova finds itself battling an apparently supernatural force.
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The fact that SF action picture Spectral was originally intended as a theatrical release but was sold by Legendary Entertainment at the eleventh hour to streaming platform Netflix, is enough to set alarm bells ringing, and it’s not too long before the reasons behind their decision become apparent. Competently directed by first-timer Nic Mathieu, Spectral suffers from a reliance on science and technology of the sticky-tape-and-chewing-gum variety, and a ridiculously competent hero capable of making literally anything out of literally anything. Literally.
His name is Clyne (James Badge Dale – World War Z, The Lone Ranger), and he’s a scientific engineer who seems laughably surprised to learn that some suits in the government believe that the device he invented which can instantaneously turn water to ice or steam could be used to – gulp – kill people (!) in a combat situation. His concerns are swiftly forgotten, however, when he’s despatched to Moldova to investigate curious images of spectral figures captured on the high-tech goggles – another of his inventions – worn by soldiers killed in the line of duty. In fact, these ghostly images appear to be responsible for the demise of all of the unlucky wearers of the goggles.
The attitude of the military unit that greets Clyne in Moldova is closer to that which can be expected by a new arrival at a high security prison than a war zone. But, as their numbers dwindle while negotiating the deserted war-torn streets to capture more conclusive evidence of the wraithlike creatures, he finds himself not only becoming accepted, but also the one upon whose scientific ingenuity they rely when their armoured vehicles are destroyed and they have to avoid the growing army of spectres while trying to make it back to base on foot.
Spectral is entertaining enough in a brain-off sort of way, but the silliness of it all comes shining through when one makes the mistake of applying the merest hint of thought to what you’re watching. It’s most apparent in the final act when, cut-off from their base and seeking a brief respite in a refugee shelter, Clyne experiences a Eureka moment for no reason other than screenwriter George Nolfi (who has high profile movies like The Bourne Ultimatum and The Adjustment Bureau to his name) decides the moment has arrived to start wrapping things up. This bolt of cognitive lightning then inspires Clyne to construct an arsenal of deadly high-tech weapons from whatever’s lying around, thereby bringing renewed hope to the weary band of survivors and groans of mild contempt from those members of the audience who know a cheat when they see it. Mind you, as bright as Clyne might be, when endeavouring to disable the leviathan-like contraption responsible for creating the spectral creatures, he still needs to be reminded of the simple instructions for destruction that he read just five minutes earlier in order to prolong the ‘tension’ of the scene.
Had you paid money to see Spectral at the cinema you would have no doubt felt sorely let down, but at least by watching it on Netflix you’ll merely be mildly disappointed by what is essentially nothing more than a bloodless time-waster for kids with body hair.
(Reviewed 23rd December 2016)