Spectral (2016): Another Video Game Movie (Review)

Promotional still for Spectral

While this is not a complaint, it is more an observation, Spectral is, in essence, a video game movie. Taking bits from classic survival horror game Fatal Frame, aka Project Zero and the horror shoot ’em up F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon this Netflix offering, produced initially by Universal and then thrown in the bin, is entertaining.

It stars James Badge Dale as Dr. Clyne, the man who invented the special lenses that the Army uses. Emily Mortimer is the CIA agent, Max Martini is the fearless leader, who looks incredibly authentic; right down to that chiseled cleft in his chin, and hotter than hot Clayne Crawford (minus his partner in crime Damon Wayans).

The story is that soldiers are being killed by these “spectral” images that can only be seen with the special camera lenses, a’la Fatal Frame.  Clyne is flown to the exotic location where these “glitches” are running through the fighting force like a hot knife through butter.

Local commander General Orland (played by the brilliant Bruce Greenwood in what can be described as an incredibly long cameo) asks Clyne to tell him what the ghostly images caught on film are.  The local spook advisor CIA agent Fran Madison believes the images are of enemy soldiers in advanced camouflage, Clyne disagrees.

The film follows the men that Clyne travels with, a group that do not trust the “tourist” in their midst.  The doctor invents a camera that will show the spectres without the camera lenses.

Eventually they learn what the deadly images are and how they are created, a process that is evocative of F.E.A.R., this information allows the military men to track the things down to their origin and attempt to destroy them.

The action is effective and moves the story forward. There is a sense of danger and the suspense factor is impressive. As the things chase and kill off a large number of soldiers when another one appears, the inclination of the viewer is to immediately tense up.

Deaths are, for the most part, bloodless. The “ghosts” zoom through their victim and they fall over dead.  The creation of the phantom Army is explained as being part of an Albert Einstein collaboration that has been improved upon.

Spectral could also be seen as being a sort of riff on the 2011 film Battle Los Angeles where the spectral images take the place of invading aliens. Regardless of any similarities between plot lines the film is clever with its own storyline and the characters in it.

The cast all bring something valid and quite truthful to the table. Clayne Crawford shows that he can command attention even when he is not in the boots of Martin Riggs. Martini’s very essence screams military leader, or cop, and Greenwood provides a sort of dry gravitas to any role he plays.

Emily Mortimer proves once again that when it comes to American accents, she has no peer. This English London born actress gives “good American.”

Dale is quite effective as the scientist forced to fight for his life in the field.  The effects in Spectral work very well and are indeed very evocative of the spooks in Fatal Frame.

Director Nic Mathieu gives a brilliant rendering of a science fiction thriller based upon a story Nic and Ian Fried;  George Nolfi wrote the screenplay. At 107 minutes the film does seem, at times, over-long but overall the action manages to make up any short falls in pacing. 

Spectral is a splendid 4.5 star film. It loses half a star due to its resemblance to other projects in the genre and for being just a tad overly long.

It is, however, well worth a look. It is classed as a “Netflix Original” and since they saved the movie from the bin, where it had been tossed by Universal, it is by all rights theirs to claim.

Head on over and take a peak, after finishing your holiday repast and see what you think.

LADYGREY: Melancholia in South Africa (Review)

Liam Cunningham in LadyGrey

Apartheid may be over, but the events of a small South African village still resonate with its inhabitants in “LADYGREY.” Directed and co-written by Alain Choquart the melancholia of a community forced to continue a tense and uneven existence is, despite the bleakness of its characters, a beautiful experience. 

Starring Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Peter Sarsgaard and Jérémie Renier,  LadyGrey is the name of a school, and of the village,  where 11 black children were gunned down by whites during the apartheid years. The bodies were never found and two French nurses were murdered in retribution, one of these women was Sarsgaard’s wife. 

The film follows Samuel (Sarsgaard), who aspires to be a horticulturist cultivating and selling roses, and his son who spends his days making a tunnel through the cane to the river; the same one his mother disappeared in years before. Argus (Cunningham) and his new city wife Olive (Mortimer) as well as Mattis (Renier), a lad who is “slow” and an odd assortment of characters are all seen going through their everyday lives.

“LADYGREY” looks gorgeous and is shot beautifully.  The main problem with the film is its downbeat air and the characters who all seem to have much more in common with Mattis than with Argus or Olive. Samuel obsesses over his roses yet when Waldo (Jude Foley) shows them off to the bossman (Argus) he dismisses them as weeds. 

A cast of “simple” yet dispassionate characters fill the film.  Mattis’ sister, a mixed race prostitute who  gets one of her customers to sort out her brother’s custody, is the preferred sex partner of Argus and the man is so cold to his “city wife” Olive one wonders why he married her.

There is a simmering discord between the races in this multilingual film. French, Afrikaans and English are spoken throughout and the connecting factor in this  drama are the French characters. Left over from the days when the village housed a mission, these people could be seen as the conscience of the village, or at the very least its chroniclers.

The eagle, that Mattis so yearns for seems to represent a type of freedom while the doomed sheep the repressed people murdered by the white farmers, the jackals.  Samuel has a barely hidden contempt for his black neighbors

Choquart’s film is peopled with bleak and cold characters. The only one who has any passion is Mortimer’s Olive.  This is fitting as the nurse is not from the village and therefore not scarred by its horrific events in the recent past.

The day after she discovers her husband has been sleeping with a client, skeletal remains are found  in a drainage ditch.  As a memorial service is held Olive is given Samuel’s dead wife’s wedding band.

A sense of foreboding permeates every single frame of this film, leaving the viewer tense and waiting anxiously for the other shoe to drop.   Despite this, the music and the landscape of South Africa make this French, Belgian and South African film a feast for the eyes.

It captures the feeling and the essence of a country that is steeped in bloodshed and a violent history that still resonates today against a stunning canvas of natural beauty.

Performances are of the highest quality and Renier plays the mentally challenged Mattis with a mixture of angst, slow-wittedness and over-excitement. “LadyGrey” is not a film to be viewed repeatedly; it is too downbeat and depressing for that. It is however a lovely film to look at and as such worth at least one viewing.

“LADYGREY” was released on April 26 via Digital HD and On Demand.  This is a solid 3 star film for the performances alone and worthy of a look by those who appreciate cinematic beauty.


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