Netflix is on it’s game. My oh my! This is a movie that was directed by the writer and that may be the only thing holding this film back from being amazing. The first time director, Nic Mathieu, had some pacing issues and I would guess stayed too long in the editing room. This film feels like a book in good ways and in bad ways. It drags at the wrong time and the dialogue is almost too much at times. It is realistic but from a cinematic perspective it felt a bit off. I am hoping that with Nic’s next effort he can learn from these mistakes because he wrote an absolutely wonderful film that stumbled at the finish line. They brought on George Nolfi to help him with the adaptation and I think that may have been less than helpful as well. For those of you who do not know who this Hollywood hack is let me run down his resume. He ruined a Michael Crichton novel, Timeline. I don’t honestly know how you do that. He is responsible for Ocean’s Twelve, easily the worst in the series and a tangled mess of a screenplay. He tried to kill the Bourne series when he wrote the screenplay for Bourne Ultimatum and he took a great short story by Philip K. Dick and turned it into the disappointment that became the Adjustment Bureau. So he ruined a Robert Ludlum, a Michael Crichton and a Philip K. Dick book. I take back what I said about the director, clearly George Nolfi should be taken into a back lot and shot twice in the head. This movie succeeds despite his handiwork thankfully.
So did you like Ghostbusters but thought it was too silly and the witty one-liners were distracting? Did you think the ghosts were too playful and friendly and not nearly shit-splatteringly scary? You are in luck! Spectral has you covered. The concept is simple enough to get behind. United States Soldiers are in Moldova fighting insurgents. Generic but feasible. They are equipped with new headgear to help them detect movement and see a fuller visual spectrum. This leads to some Soldiers seeing a weird ghost-like figure and immediately being killed. The visual of the Specter is actually well done. It is creepy and moves as you would expect a ghost to move and is frighteningly quick. The higher-ups immediately decide to bring in the developer of the goggles to see if he has an opinion on what they encountered or if the machines are malfunctioning. This brings in James Dale’s character. He is your generic scientific hero. He is smart but still manly enough to fit in with hardened Delta Soldiers. You know, like all engineers are known for. His credibility as a bad-ass aside, he immediately insists on seeing the thing up close and the General in charge signs him up for the next recovery mission. Because civilians are always an added joy on the battle field. It just so happens that the hero brought along a bigger, badder version of his goggles that can be mounted into a .50 Cal turret. What luck! We have a short scene where the scientist meets his “escorts’. This is where George Nolfi’s writing talents are on display. We get a generic gruff Soldiers don’t like scientists tagging along scene, followed by the smarter Captain telling the men this scientist is responsible for the gear that keeps them safe then automatic acceptance by everyone. Hollywood bullshit at a supremely high level. Oh did I mention Emily Mortimer is in this film? She shouldn’t be. I can only assume the Studio felt a female was necessary. You could legitimately replace her character with anyone else in the film and it would not change the film in any noticeable way. But I do like her as an actress so fuck it. She tags along for the ride. We do get Clayne Crawford as a Sergeant though so that makes two stars I like in this film. Three if you count Stephen Root’s brief part at the beginning as the head of DARPA. If you do not know who Clayne Crawford is you need to go watch the Lethal Weapon television show and bask in his talent.
We progress in the film to where the good guys run into a building and find a survivor from a previous mission. The Soldiers actually use correct terminology, look like they know how to hold a weapon and move as a Soldiers. Whoever was the military advisor did a great job because it was bringing back memories. The team finds a survivor hiding under a ceramic tub and then are immediately attacked by the ghost. Watching them die one by one in this scene was fairly entertaining and highly believable. Up to this point there was a theory that the thing killing everyone was a cloaked insurgent but after bullets and rockets go straight through it they kind of reconsider their options. They fall back to their vehicle and flee only to run over landmines and need to fine shelter on foot.
This is where it gets a bit too convenient for my liking. They find the only building that has a been protected from ghosts. They regroup there and find two kids who conveniently know everything that is going on, what they ghosts things are, how to stop them and where they came from. These fuckers are lucky! This part of the film could have been condensed to about five minutes but is stretched around a half-hour. Fast forward to when the scientists insists he can stop the ghosts (oh suddenly it isn’t just one ghost but dozens) by using his magic engineering powers to build ceramic armor and plasma weapons with the equipment just laying around this bombed out building. This dude is good. MacGuyer level good. So they make a run for it to the rendezvous point and the new armor looks bad-ass and the weapons are fucking cool and I want a sequel with this premise but without this writer. This scene is pretty awesome and well done but we are going to skip ahead.
The ghosts have over-run the city and have kicked the Soldiers asses except for our hero’s team and the General is all sad-faced and there is no hope. The end. Well, it would have been a better ending if the ghost had just over-run them and killed everyone. Instead we get the conclusion Hollywood demands. They go to a power plant where the Moldovans had been dumping billions into weapons research (TOTALLY NEW INFORMATION!!!!) and the scientist and Emily Mortimer (because of course you send these two) find that the ghosts are just spectral weapons being controlled by dug up corpses nervous systems in kind of cool tanks (think the Matrix but with just nerves and brains). Predictably they unplug the machine running the system at the last second and save the day.
There are some good scenes in this film and some great acting and then there are some horrible cliche’s and terrible dialog and predictable plot progressions. There was an amazing, franchise starting movie in here somewhere but I feel like it was lost along the way. I still enjoyed it and hope someone more competent comes along and does a sequel.