All the way back in 2012, I heard of a movie in development with the working title of Spectral. The premise–a militarized anti-ghost squad battles a sudden swarm of ectoplasmic visitors–sounded an awful lot like my then-work-in-progress, Specter Cell. I even emailed my then-agent in a fit, screaming that once again the frigging Idea Gnomes had broken into my house while I slept, and that it was time to start sleeping with tin foil nightcaps again.
With all of her trademark good judgment, Joan told me not to worry about it, so I got back to work. Specter Cell never got picked up by any of the fifteen publishers that looked at it, and Spectral got booted back from its 2013, 2014, and 2015 release dates.
Then, last month, a trailer finally surfaced, along with an announcement declaring that Spectral would be a Netflix-only release, and I soon saw why. Plotwise, it didn’t look all that more complex than something you’d see on SyFy at 2AM, and the leading cast members weren’t exactly A-listers. An IMDB search reveals that James Badge Dale’s biggest role was as Right Hand Man Henchman #1 in Iron Man 3. Max Martini, the rugged military character, was best known for his semi-side role as Hercules Hanson in Pacific Rim (as well as just about every TV show ever.) Emily Mortimer, the female lead, was in Shutter Island in 2010.
None of these actors are bad, they’re just never top-billed material, nor are they near the top. That said, they all put on solid performances for their characters, especially Dale, who was the Science McGyver of the flick.
The premise is simple: Dale plays a scientist who developed some high-tech specs for the military. When an Eastern European battle zone starts running a high casualty rate, the military geeks notice strange apparitions on the recordings from the soldiers’ specs, and they call in Dale to analyze. Soon they realize that the battlezone is overrun with ghosts, phantoms that can kill you just with a touch, and none of the military’s weapons can touch them.
So in true sci-fi/horror flick fashion, it’s a race against the clock to figure out what the monster is, figure out how to kill it, make something that can kill it, and then kill it.
That said, I’m pleased and surprised to report that the science-babble and methodology behind the ghosts (what they were, how they worked, why they were there) was interesting and even somewhat sensical, beyond “ooooh it’s paranormal magic, so whatevs.” There were pieces of dialogue all throughout the movie that reminded you just what you were watching, interspersed with dialogue and moments that slightly elevated it above what it truly was.
If you’re not all that jazzed about what’s on your Netflix watchlist, I’d suggest sitting down one night with Spectral and giving it a try. I think it’s cool that the studio not only finished their project, but admitted to themselves what they had, and released it via a channel that would be good for them, good for the platform, and good for the product.
There certainly are worse “kill ghosts with high-tech laser weapons” movies that hit the screen this year.