The latest Netflix original movie has an interesting premise with some good action and visuals, but lacks compelling characters or plot.
Director: Nic Mathieu
Writers: Nic Mathieu, Ian Fried, George Nolfi
Stars: James Badge Dale, Emily Mortimer, Clayne Crawford, Mad Martini, Ryan Robbins, Cory Hardrict, Ursula Parker, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Dylan Smith, Bruce Greenwood, Gonzalo Menendez
In the not too distant future, the United States becomes engaged a war with a European country whose government was overthrown by insurgents. As the conflict rages on, the army comes against a mysterious force which kills soldiers and civilians with only a touch. To get answers about the strange ghost like beings the locals call Aratare, the military brings in their top scientist, Dr. Clyne (Dale). He, along with a special ops team and a CIA operative (Mortimer), investigate a possible sighting and become stuck in the middle of the city surrounded by the Aratare with no way out and no way to kill them.
The concept of a ghost like enemy which can kill by freezing a person’s insides is engaging, but the writers fail to develop a more compelling plot or series of characters to surround the premise. It is fairly obvious this is writer/director Mathieu’s first time out of the gate and is using other sci-fi/action films as inspiration. His partners, Fried and Nolfi, do not have much more experience than Mathieu does. The finished product comes off as clumsy and the subtext of the morality of science being used as a weapon is overly serious and as subtle as Kanye West with a microphone at an awards show.
Spectral follows the pattern of plot points sci-fi/action movies of the past like Predator and Aliens (there is even a dead ringer for Newt here) set long ago making the film easy to predict. The protagonists come off as nothing more than this soldier or the other one, scientist, government drone… No backstory or motivations are given to the people we are rooting for to live. Pros Greenwood and Mortimer help to elevate the material, but the rest of the cast cite their awkward dialogue without any authenticity. Clyne is supposed to be the hero everyone rallies behind, but he has no discernible attributes other than being super smart and doesn’t like his technology being used as weapons. No mention of family or loved ones, no flaws in his character. Just a shallow representation of a human fueled by Dale’s minimal and bland performance. Not being able to connect with the individuals on screen makes it hard to feel fear for them when they are in danger, or sadness when one is killed. In the end, most of the characters are treated as cannon fodder to the final battle, so maybe it is best we feel nothing for them.
Mathieu may need to work on developing his story telling skills, but his cinematography has elements of promise. The action sequences are gritty and well shot. The newbie in the director’s chair makes good use of the urban terrain set. Unfortunately, there is not enough warfare to make keep the film on a faster pace. Even though Spectral was shot on a lower budget, Mathieu was able to get some great CGI effects for the Aratare. When the full scope of the ghosts is revealed, the movie shows some signs of life. But then the events shift back to the human characters sitting around discussing what to do next, bringing the whole movie back down.
While Spectral garners inspiration from other, better action/sci-fi movies, it fails to find its own, interesting voice to tell the story with. A big-scale wannabe thriller perfect for the small screen one can use to kill time on a short flight.
2 Out of 5 Stars