By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
*Mild Spoiler Alert
The producers behind Netflix’s Spectral must be fans of H.P. Lovecraft and players of Pagan Publishing’s Delta Green RPG. This horror based role playing game takes concepts from this seminal author’s works and places them in a military setting, where covert operations are the. are of the game. In this game world, agents (who were once FBI, ATF, CDC or DEA) deal with threats from within and afar. The cosmic terrors that come to plague humanity are different in the film, and when dealing with the paranormal — ghosts especially — just how can you shoot one down? Bullets do jack.
The special effects are really cool in bringing to life these wraiths. The animators have them jump about like Power Rangers and vaguely move in humanoid fashion.
The Republic of Moldova is a tiny country (one of its neighbours is Romania) and the turmoil going on in Chișinău by insurgents is taking a turn for the worse when US soldiers are dying from unknown causes. Dr. Mark Clyne (James Badge Dale) is called in to figure out what’s going on, and in what he uncovers is straight out of Lovecraft’s imagination. If there were Mi-Go flying about, I would have to say they were the lords a group of scientists were extracting knowledge from. I do not want to give away the entire film. One famous quote from HPL’s Necronomicon, however, seems to tell all in the way it is interpreted for this film
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die..
In a movie that kept me guessing at why they killed, I knew they were protecting a secret. The story felt familiar, like it had to follow the narrative from Stargate. We have a dorky Clyne brought in to solve a riddle. General Orland (Bruce Greenwood) briefs him in what his goal is, and Major Sessions (Max Martini) sort of fills the Jack O’Neil role. When two kids enter into the story, I knew what would come next. Half of the unfolding story moves predictably. Sessions bonds with one of the kids, and true to form, one of them has to die. The survivor grows up and if there’s a sequel — that individual is going to be the key. The backstory suggesting the parent is part of the cause is interesting enough to have me asking what’s stored on that USB stick?
Clyne tries to figure out what these ghosts are and his guess is rooted in quantum physics. Orland believes they are super soldiers using advanced cloaking technology and the Moldovan people think they are from folklore. The simplest touch destroys, and the people who have died have their eyes rolled back. Nice effect, but was their souls sucked out? If I was to believe in Clyne’s theory, then that 21 grammes of bio-electrical substance that makes up each person’s spirit should have been seen sucked out and consumed by these ghosts like a Dementor from the Harry Potter books. Since they did not, just where did the soul go? Wouldn’t they perhaps return to the mortal realm to help the good guys fight? The answer depends on the ideology. For those who died suddenly, the shock will have some lingering on this plane of existence wanting revenge for being taken too soon and those who were prepared, they can go into the light.
The only illumination shed in this film is how quickly Clyne can turn a FLIR (a heat-detecting camera) into a light-emitting spotlight to help reveal the spectres. I want one too! As the story climaxes to a battle between the soldiers and the Nazgûl (and the scientist digging for the truth of what they are to stop them), I had to wonder who the big bad boss would ultimately be? The story takes on more of a video game style conclusion than a Lovecraftian tale. Shades of Final Fantasy: Spirits Within can be recognized. Borrowing ideas from other movies is not entirely bad as long as the writing team puts their own creative twist in the final reveal. Here, most of the answers are satisfyingly given. All I have to say is, who still has knowledge to “summon” these evil “ghosts?”
The threat does not look like it’s over. Who knows, after the dust settles and a new ruler of Moldova is appointed, maybe the new villain will be like Doctor Doom and he will want to make a different kind of super soldier to win the civil war.
3 Ghosts out of 5