The 2016 Netfilx science-fiction/horror film, Spectral, asks the burning question (as the title of this post suggests), what if the military fought ghosts?
When initially watching the trailer for this film and reading the original synopsis, I didn’t imagine that there would be much more to it than the initial question above. However, while Spectral is by no means groundbreaking, it definitely proves to be much more than an hour and 45 minutes of ‘army dudes shooting ghosts.’ The film centers around Dr. Mark Clyne (James Badge Dale), a DARPA scientist flown into Moldova where the U.S. Military is engaged in combat operations amidst an ongoing Moldovan War. Clyne’s job is to investigate a series of deadly anomalies on the front lines that have only been detectable through hyperspectral imaging goggles of his design. As Clyne arrives on a U.S. base on the outskirts of Chișinău, he meets with CIA officer, Fran Madison (Emily Mortimer), and General Orland (Bruce Greenwood), who believe the anomalies to be an advanced form of active camouflage worn by members of the insurgency.
Our central characters soon find out, however, what they are fighting is something much more than a new form of active camouflage. These spectrals, as they come to call them, have the capacity to kill with a touch, travel through walls, scale buildings, and bullets simply fly right through them.
Before writing this, I read a few other reviews of the film circling around the internet. One thing I saw pointed out that I definitely found myself nodding along too was the fact that this movie loves its montages. I must admit, I am a fan of a good montage – so that’s not necessarily a bad thing for me. Off the top of my head, I can remember at least 3 hard ‘doing science’ montages, in which the characters throw together advanced tech beyond our present day capabilities with scraps of machinery that they found around abandoned buildings (not unlike the cave scenes from the orignial Iron Man).
Spectral undoubtedly was created with a lot of love for video games, including several shots depicting a first person perspective in the midst of various missions in abandoned, war-torn buildings. There are also some clear inspirations drawn from other war-centric films – some scenes definitely gave off clear Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan vibes. What I enjoyed most, however, was the emphasis on the science behind the various plot elements. I already made mention of the many montages centered around hard science-ing and engineering, but Spectral also takes pains in its script and plot to depict interesting scientific ideas as well as toss aside the age old notion of incompatibility between scientists and fighters.
Admittedly, in the film’s first act, there is some tension between some of the marines and Clyne, however much of that hostility evaporates as the story progresses and the characters realize the importance of combining their strategic, military skills with Clyne’s scientific prowess. On top of this, there was an interesting scientific explanation at the heart of the film’s central mystery.
Ultimately, Clyne comes to the realization that the apparitions are not spirits of the dead, but rather man-made weapons composed of Bose-Einstein Condensate. In order to do this, the researches and scientists of the former regime in this particular depiction of Moldova were taking molecular scans of humans and using 3D printing to replicate them in condensate form. This raises some philosophical and moral concerns for our heroes as they come upon the lab in which the scanning and 3D printing was conducted – who are the people being scanned? Are they alive or dead? Do they have a choice?
While the conceptual notions introduced in Spectral could be considered outlandish or even silly, I found them just interesting enough to make me think a little deeper, and that is something I always look for in a film. While far from revolutionary, there was a lot to enjoy in watching this – definitely recommended for those wondering what happens when the military takes on ghosts and enjoy interesting ideas to chew on on the side.
Spectral is currently streaming on Netflix.