Spectral follows an elite unit of soldiers that are dispatched to fight an assailant that seems to lack corporeal form. The soldiers must unlock the secret of their enemy in order to find a way to stop them.
First off, it's always nice to know what you can expect from a horror perspective. After all, we review horror movies a majority of the time. Spectral is, at most, a thriller. It is very similar in vein to Kill Command, which we reviewed at the Telluride Horror Show. Spectral delivers a primarily scifi concept with a tinge of horror, but is otherwise an action thriller. So, don't expect much of a horror experience watching this film.
In many ways, Spectral relates to the film mentioned in our comic frame this week. Like Spirits Within, Spectral has this blend of supernatural and science fiction that inevitably lands almost entirely on the science fiction plane. And much like Spirits Within, our ghost-like foes have a means of going corporeal and ethereal seemingly at will. Like a lethal game of Red Light/Green Light. Much like how Marvel uses the excuse that "the magic we can't explain is technology we don't understand yet", Spectral is based in a similar reality. However, it does go through exhausting lengths to explain the condition of their enemy.
As is a high priority in the plot, the enemy's anatomy in Spectral is important to learning how to fight them. As the film begins, the soldiers have literally no way of combating their opponent, so a great deal of the runtime is spent explaining what they are, how to beat them, plans of attack, plans of escape, and attempting to execute all of this discussion. Perhaps I watched the film too late at night, but the barrage of vague information in between moments of running and shooting makes it difficult to determine if their reasoning has any reason.
The film does feel jagged in its storytelling. However, there is a quality to the film that makes it feel like a high-end scifi short set to a full-length film. Again, similar to Kill Command. The special effects of the spectral beings and the action sequences are entertaining, but I never feel a grasp of the story and I have little interest in any of the characters. Somewhere in the cold war between guns and ghosts, the film lost its heart and wasn't able to get it back.
The lack of energy makes you feel a lack of empathy for the events. Sometimes it is an intangible virtue for a film to be capable of creating a connection between the audience and what is happening on screen. You can't quite put your finger on why you don't care, but for some reason you just don't. And this could very well be a subjective thing. But somewhere along the way of production, Spectral lost its spirit, and it was bad enough that its last gasp for air was a release on Netflix. And while Netflix is a place for high quality serialized programming, it is often a place for lowly films to go and die. Still, any magic the film had is in the fact that it was more entertaining than the grade I gave it below:
Horror Qualifier: 3/10
Horror Quality: 2/10
Film Quality: 4/10