Today I am hosting Melfka – a writer, a gamer, an artist, a friend, a very creative girl with a great personality. Welcome on this blog! She decided to treat Readers of this blog with a guest review of Spectral, a film produced and distributed on Netflix.
I’m usually on top of the news about new Netflix releases (at least in my range of interest, so anything even remotely fantasy or sci-fi), but I’ve missed information on Spectral, and only stumbled upon the trailer recently. A team of soldiers in a war-torn city in the Eastern Europe, and an enemy they cannot see, let alone defeat, looked quite promising and set my expectations quite high.
Did the movie live up to them?
Let me tell you this way: the difference between Spectral and a brilliant movie is like the difference between someone who can play an instrument and a musician. The first one will read the notes and reproduce the melody, the second one will pour his or her soul in, making the music something more than a collection of sounds.
That’s what Spectral ends up being: a correct movie with few interesting ideas that fails to engage its audience deeper. Everything seems good enough in it: the story, the setting, even the plot twists, but at the same time it feels like the movie’s been done “by the book”, by ticking off points on the “how to make a movie” list.
In mood and theme, Spectral feels a follower of Aliens and the animated movie Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. From the first one it borrows the theme of a badass team facing an enemy more powerful than them, and from the other–the idea for the enemy. Even though the origin of creatures in Spectral is different than that of spirits in Final Fantasy, they seem similar in the way they kill and move through walls.
So, with such two great inspirations, what went wrong with Spectral?
First, not enough characterization. After having watched the movie twice (well, one and a half times: we had to pause one evening, so the next time we’ve just started over), I don’t remember a single name. I tagged the main character as “the scientist,” and the only female character as “the CIA chick,”. The rest became “the squad”, and sadly, I can hardly recall their faces now. Yes, with so many characters onscreen, it’s hard to give them all enough time to make the viewer care about them.
Still, if you’ve ever watched Aliens, you probably remember Vasquez.
Hudson: Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No, have you?
Two lines, less than half a minute exchange, but it instantly shows that Hudson is the joker in the team, and Vasquez is a real badass.
Spectral doesn’t offer many witty one-liners or exchanges, instead offering some bland exchanges between the scientist and the team-leader-who-dies (oops, sorry, spoiler!), and no personality really shines through. The same goes for acting: it’s not bad, but it’s bland… though it might be the result of the unemotional script, not the actors.
Second issue is a lack of deeper theme. While Final Fantasy: Spirits Within addressed such things as ecology and reincarnation, making the stakes both personal and affecting the world, Spectral doesn’t offer much of a deeper thought. Not even the over-used ponderings on war and cruelty or on death, so while the action in the movie was entertaining, the movie failed to keep me at the edge of my seat, like Aliens or Final Fantasy did.
Stakes are not there either, and while in Spirits Within you have a clear understanding what’s going to happen if the characters fail (or make the “wrong” choice), there’s nothing in Spectral that creates the tension or feeling of a threat. Both Aliens and Final Fantasy had kept me at the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen, while I felt quite unemotional about the events in Spectral. Even the issue of the creatures spreading all over the world is addressed in the movie in a such way, that if feels no more threatening than a toddler with a rubber duck.
With all that said, I admit that I quite enjoyed watching the movie, and I even forgave it some of the plot slips. The idea itself, though similar to Spirits Within, is interesting enough, and the visuals are great. The whole movie is kept in muted grays, set in a crude post-communistic city in the heart of Moldava, and the only saturated elements seem to be the spectral creatures, which really sets the right mood, even though no single scene takes place in the dark. Special effects are good, but used sparingly enough to not be one of those “nothing except CGI” movies.
Is it worth watching? If you have a free evening, sure! With the right amount of popcorn, crafting, and matching expectations, it’s a decent entertainment. If you value your time or prefer more sophisticated cinematographic creations, you’re better off giving this one a pass.