Spectral, movie (2016) - Film review by KadmonSpectral, movie (2016) - Film review by Kadmon
image © Legend Pictures (Dalian Wanda Group)

Article updated: 2021.06.23

The Spectral (2016) is a futuristic mystery / action film. The movie was reviewed by Kadmon.

Product: Spectral, movie (2016)

Original title: Spectral

Series: -

Setting: future Earth

Product type: Film, Genre: futuristic mystery / action, Style: sci-fi, mystery, ghosts, action, horror

Release: 2016.12.09

Reviewer: Kadmon, Type: Male, 40s, Preferences: Immersive, logical story, consistent setting, prefers surprises to spoilers, prefers establishing elements before referencing them

Watched: very recent (2021.06), first time

Rating: Average (2 out of 3 points), Enjoyment: Weak (2- out of 3 points)

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This is my review of Spectral, a futuristic mystery / action movie from 2016. It's about a group of soldier meeting an unbeatable enemy. The Spectral film has some interesting parts, but I only recommend it to fans of the action horror genre.

If you'd like to be surprised by the Spectral film, I don't recommend you to watch the trailer beyond 0:45, because it starts to gives away parts of the plot.

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Review (spoiler-free) - Spectral, movie (2016)

I think it was Alteori, who recommended this movie in one of her videos. I didn't read any reviews, and didn't watch the trailer. When I had a chance, I've watched the film.

The Spectral movie is about a group of soldier meeting an unbeatable enemy. They have to come up with way to defeat them to save the world.

The first half of the movie is good and interesting, then the story starts to fall apart due to unnecessary explanations. The story is consistent. There are no real character arcs.

The cinematography is okay. Visually it looks good, and I appreciate the effort they put into building the ruined city. The special effects are fine.

The characters are not very deep nor well developed, but I think they work okay in an action story like this. The actors portray them fine.

The music (by Tom Holkenborg) is okay, but nothing memorable.

Spectral is watchable action movie, I think fans of the genre could enjoy it.

My experience

I was satisfied with the first half of Spectral (2016), then the whole story started to crumble apart. I happen to like stories with well-thought, logical plots, and Spectral didn't deliver that.

Rating: Average (2 out of 3 points). Spectral is a watchable film. Without the stupid explanations it could be a Good (2+) movie.

Enjoyment: Weak (2- out of 3 points). Spectral is okay as an action movie, but nothing special. I didn't like the scientific aspects.

Rewatchability: High. I think those who liked it, liked it for the action scenes and the thrilling themes.

Chance of watching it again: Unlikely. Now that I know the story, there's probably no need to watch it again.

Chance of watching a sequel: Probably. This was not a bad movie, and a sequel might improve on the story.

Spectral, movie (2016) - Film review by KadmonSpectral, movie (2016) - Film review by Kadmon
image © Legend Pictures (Dalian Wanda Group)

Will you enjoy this?

If you like mystery movies, you might like Spectral.

If you like action movies (Aliens), you might like the Spectral movie.

Watching for plot points

If you are interested in scientific mystery stories, you might find it interesting to watch the Spectral movie for the plot points, although the scientific explanations are not realistic.

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Spectral, movie (2016) - Film review by KadmonSpectral, movie (2016) - Film review by Kadmon
image © Legend Pictures (Dalian Wanda Group)

Review with spoilers - Spectral, movie (2016)

I liked the Spectral movie, up until the point they arrived in the refugee shelter. The story fell apart for me when they started to plan their attack, and when the engineer created energy weapons from scratch.

I've mentioned earlier that there are no real character arcs. There are two changes though. The engineer, who was a pacifist, learns to build weapons to kill people, than he even murders people in cold blood. The second is also the engineer, who first thinks that science has the answer for everything, and in the end he comes to the conclusion that there are things that science doesn't have an answer for. However, I don't think that can be considered a proper character arc, it's more of a descent.

I liked the depiction of the soldiers, they look and move believable. When the fight starts with the creatures, there are some questionable parts, but as they are stressed by the unbeatable enemy, I think that is okay.


One of the covers show some kind of robot we do not see in the movie, and I don't think it's a good choice to be used.

Other covers show the soldiers seen in the movie. They are a little bland, at least they don't spoil the movie.

The trailer

The trailer is makes the movie look a lot more exciting than it actually is. It also shows us scenes up to the end of the movie.

If you prefer spoilers, it's a great trailer for the Spectral film. If you prefer to avoid spoilers, it's not an ideal trailer, although I don't think watching it could ruin the movie for anyone.

Promise of the first scene

A soldier is killed by some kind of ghost. I assume that the military will have to find some method of defeating these ghosts, to save the world. Based on the recent expectations from movies, I suppose there will be a female scientist who will outlive everyone else.

Execution: The promise was kept, there was military action, and there were ghosts, who were defeated. Also, my prediction about the female scientist came true, although she was a CIA agent, and her male counterpart was the main protagonist.

Plot summary / Synopsis

We see a soldier getting killed by a ghost-like creature.

Then we are introduced to an engineer (James Badge Dale as Mark Clyne), who designs military equipment, but who is otherwise a pacifist. He made special goggles that give off strange readings on a battlefield, so he is taken there to examine the case. He meets with the general (Bruce Greenwood as General Orland), and a female CIA officer (Emily Mortimer as Fran Madison), who show the engineer footage from his goggles, that captured images of ghost-like creatures. They are tasked to retrieve a sample of those creatures, or at least capture a good footage of it.

The engineer and the female officer join a team of soldiers who have to rescue another team that got attacked by these spectres. The engineer installs a large camera to a vehicle, so he'll be able to see them. They enter the area, but they are defeated by the spectres, as they can't damage them, while the spectres kill the soldiers with a touch. The remaining soldiers escape into a building, where they find two kids. They realise that the spectres don't enter the building, because there's a barrier of iron dust around it, preventing the spectres to move through. They also realise that ceramics also stop them. The father of the kids, who is dead now, worked at a nearby power plant, and he seems to had insider knowledge of the spectres.

The engineer modifies the camera to be used as a search light showing the spectres. The soldiers create bombs using iron dust to hold off the creatures. They are able to reach their HQ to request extraction. They move to the extraction point, fighting off the spectes with the use of iron dust bombs. The survivors are picked up by a helicopter, but they get informed that their HQ was overrun, so they are taken to a refugee shelter.

The soldiers regroup at the refugee shelter, and come to the conclusion that the spectres were created in the nearby power plant, that has to be taken to defeat the creatures. The engineer invents some energy weapons, and arms every soldier with them. They storm the power plant, and they are able to destroy the spectres with the energy weapons. They find the machine that keeps the spectres working, and they switch it off, ending the fight. They find the laboratory that holds the neural networks of real people, who control the spectres. The engineer decides that they are better off dead, so he kills all of them.

Once back in the HQ, the engineer is sent back to his work.

The setting

Near future of Earth, probably mid-21th century.

They have mech-like robots. They use so advanced technology, that the engineer can create energy weapons using scraps. They are able to create ghost-like creatures, that are controlled by the neural networks removed from people.

Spectral, movie (2016) - Film review by KadmonSpectral, movie (2016) - Film review by Kadmon
image © Legend Pictures (Dalian Wanda Group)

The specters

They were created in a laboratory of a power plant. Humans were thoroughly scanned, then 3D printed out of an invisible gaseous material. (They specifically say it's Bose-Einstein condensate, but that's ridiculous.) The creatures are kept alive by the machinery of the power plant. If it's switched off, their gaseous forms ceases to exist. They are controlled by human neural networks taken out of bodies and preserved in vats.

They are invisible to the naked eye. They can be seen through special googles and cameras. These cameras can be modified to emit light that makes the spectres visible.

Bullets go right through them. They can kill a human with a single touch. They can ram and destroy tanks. They can gather into a spectre-tornado.

It can jump big, and climb walls. Otherwise they seem to have human speed. Soldiers mention that they pass through walls, but I didn't see them do that, so one of us might be mistaken. Sometimes they are able to fly.

Iron stops them. It visibly sparkles the iron dust when they touch it. Iron dust traps them temporarily if the get covered by it. They can't pass through ceramics.

The message of the story

I'm not sure there's one. There are two messages that get some focus: "Sometimes it's okay to kill", and "Science maybe doesn't have all the answers", but I'm not sure these are intentional.

The structure of the story

The scenes of the Spectral film are played in sequence, following the same storyline.

It has the usual arc of the dramatic structure - beginning, action, resolution.

Parallels with other stories

Many scenes in the first half look like Aliens (1986):

  • The command vehicle with the monitors, as the leaders monitor and direct the actions of the soldiers.
  • Soldiers clearing an empty building.
  • The civilian wants to get the soldiers pulled out, while the military leaders refuse.
  • When they retreat with the APC, the shot looks similar.
  • Finding little kids, alone in an empty building.
  • Retreating while being chased by the creatures.

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Things I liked

  • I liked the look of the soldiers, their robots and their vehicles.
  • I liked the look of the ruined city. It was especially interesting for me as I've been living there for a while. (Of course it was intact at that time.)
  • I liked it that they came up with a scientific explanation for the spectres. (I just don't like the specific explanation they've used.)

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How does it compare to the other works of the creators?

This is the first feature film of the story writers (Ian Fried, Nic Mathieu).

From the script writer (George Nolfi), I have seen The Adjustment Bureau and Timeline. I remember Timeline being pretty weak, but as both are adaptations, I can't tell how much of that is the fault of the script writer.

This is the first feature film of the director (Nic Mathieu), but the direction seems solid, so I'm interested in his future work.

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Spectral, movie (2016) - Film review by KadmonSpectral, movie (2016) - Film review by Kadmon
image © Legend Pictures (Dalian Wanda Group)

Analysis of the story - Spectral, movie (2016)

I liked the the basic concept, but the execution of the second half ruined the Spectral for me.

Problematic elements

Repeating the first scene: After we see the first scene first hand, we are shown the same thing again, when it is displayed for the engineer. One of those scenes is unnecessary.

Reversing the polarity: The techno-babble the engineer says how he'll make the spectres visible is not very convincing.

Failure to communicate: When the soldiers contacted HQ, and told them how to set up spectral searchlights, why didn't they also tell them that iron dust is the right way to combat them? The fall of the HQ base was also their fault for not telling them.

The camera: The engineer brought a special camera from the research facility. The whole point of the mission was so they could get some good shots of the creatures. Yet, after they got plenty of good shots, they just leave the camera behind when it stopped working. I'd think they could repair it if they brought it back to the base.

Insurgents: Where are the insurgents throughout the movie? They mention that if they send messages to HQ, it will be picked up by the opposing forces. But then, nothing happens. It would have been more intense and interesting, if they were using these plot points in the film.

The planning session: When the commander arrives, and they start planning their next move, the soldiers still keep it a secret that iron dust is effective against the spectres.

Bose-Einstein condensate: It's probably better if the writers leave the scientific explanations out of the story, or come up with something made-up. You cannot build working humans out of BECs, because it doesn't have an internal structure, the whole thing acts like one solid material. Even if they were able to build something out of it, the condensate itself would be destroyed by light and contact with room temperature air - and there's plenty of light and warm air in the area. It's also a liquid, unlike the ethereal thing we see in the movie, so it could only flow on the ground.

My problem with naming the creatures as made of Bose-Einstein condensate, is that the viewer, who doesn't know better, might think that this is an accurate depiction, so they will have faulty knowledge of real life facts. That is why I prefer to have made up names for fantasy elements.

Energy pulse weapon: It's utterly unrealistic that an optics engineer would be able to macguyver an energy pulse weapon out of used cameras and laptop circuits in an hour or so, especially if it's not an already established technology, and it doesn't look like it is. The fact that he was able to mass-produce these prototype weapons by hand for every single soldier was ridiculous. He even made a targeting system for the weapon.

They do not even fire those weapons before leaving the base. Luckily, they are not only working, but they are able to shoot in rapid succession.

One of the soldiers even manages to overcharge it, creating a large blast, like the BFG in Doom.

Lazy spectres: When the soldiers assault the power plant, why don't the spectres do something? They seem to notice the soldiers, but just stand there. Even after one of them gets killed by the energy blast, they don't do anything.

Assault on the power plant: Why do they wear those heavy suits? As far as we know, they won't protect them against the spectres.

Why don't they have their spectre-vision goggles? They run out of power previously, but they sure had the time to recharge them. Without those goggles, they are practically blind against the spectres.

Also, why do they trust these untested energy weapons so much that they don't even bring some iron dust bombs with them? They would have plenty of time to prepare them.

Extra fit scientists: The engineer and the woman does everything the soldiers do, even things that would require athletic fitness. I don't think it was established how well prepared those characters are.

The laboratory: They find that the scientists did X-Ray scans to study people on a cellular level - but X-Rays are not enough for that. Also, they were 3D printing the spectres using Bose-Einstein condensate - but the condensate cannot be given a solid form, as it's a gaseous condensate, and also, no matter how they give it a specific form, they cannot build a neural network into a gaseous body, because it lacks the specific connections required for that. So even if they were able to send signals out of those preserved brains, there would be nothing to receive them.

Lucky fall: The engineer falls about 10 meters, and hits the ground with his back and head. Yet, he doesn't have any problems, not even a dislocated limb or a slight concussion.

Sudden ending: It would have been great if there were some kind of emotional impact, or a kind of resolution to the story, beyond just ending it when the fight is over.

Military intelligence: I find it really hard to believe that a small country like Moldova would be able to come up with such a revolutionary technology, without anyone knowing about it.

Scientific approach: I've read it in an interview that the creators wanted to show us how the worldview of a man of science will be challenged by the possibility of the existence of ghosts. However, I don't think they really understand the scientific worldview. Scienctist do not disbelieve or deny the existence of things considered supernatural, they just don't think it's worth taking them in consideration.

They also think that scientists refuse to give answers without clear evidence, and this is also wrong. A scientist will probably have plenty of hypotheses about a situation, and in a pressing matter like this, he'll share it with the leaders, even if they do it only for speaking out loud, as a method of revising their own thoughts. Evidence is useful to choose between theories, or to refine the

Unanswered questions


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Possibilities of improvement

  • Cut the scientific explanations. Those who don't understand them don't need them anyway. Those who understand them might get angry about the lazy and condescending writing.
  • Add some explanation, even off-camera, why don't they use iron dust after the first fight.

How it could have been better?


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Spectral, movie (2016) - Film review by KadmonSpectral, movie (2016) - Film review by Kadmon
image © Legend Pictures (Dalian Wanda Group)

Uses for the film - Spectral, movie (2016)


  • A science experiment to create super-soldiers goes wrong, and the creatures turn against their creators.


  • The scenes where the soldiers go through the empty streets of the ruined city look good.
  • The battle at the end could be used to depict futuristic fighting against ghost-like opponents.

Scenarios - Role-playing game


Scenarios - Wargame

  • One of the sides came up with a cloaking device. The other side has a number of special spotlights they can use to make the units from the other side visible. The spotlights can be held in hand, but the soldier carrying it cannot fight. They can be also mounted on vehicles. The cloaked side has to complete a special objective to win, in a limited number of turns. The other side wins if they deny them the victory.
    • The uncloaked side has to find and retrieve a wounded soldier / important objective from the area.
    • The uncloaked side has to reach an extraction point, and hold the area until all of the units get into the extraction vehicle.
  • Another take on the cloaking device is that those wearing the suit are unable to use ranged weapons, but they are totally protected against damage. The other side is able to see them, but they cannot harm them. The other side has to complete their missions, while unable to do anything against their opponents.
    • There can be a special defensive barrier that can be deployed to hold the cloaked soldiers off.
    • There can be some special weapons that can be used to push them away.
    • There can be some very special weapons that can be used to destroy them.
  • Attackers assault a base. The base is defended by defenders who are more powerful than the assaulters. The assaulters have some heavy weapons that can take out a defender. However, there's an off switch somewhere in the base. When it is turned off, the defenders cease the fight. You can determine randomly in the beginning of the game where will be this switch, or you can roll a test for every area the assaulters search - on a d6 roll of 1, they find the device. The attacker wins if they destroy all of the defenders, with more than half of their own units remaining. The defender wins if they destroy all of the attackers, with more than half of their own units remaining. If both sides lose more than half of their units, it's a draw.

Miniatures - 1/50-1/60 (28-32mm scale)

Soldiers: Modern or futuristic human-sized soldiers.

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Similar stories - Spectral, movie (2016)


Aliens (1986): Soldiers are fighting against dangerous creatures. Their lair must be destroyed to stop them.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001): Soldiers are fighting against practically unbeatable, ghost-like creatures.

Frankenstein's Army (2013): Soldiers are fighting against practically unbeatable creatures (zombies), made by science experiments. Their lair (a laboratory) must be destroyed to stop them.

Outpost (2008): Soldiers are fighting against practically unbeatable creatures (zombies), made by science experiments. Their lair (a laboratory) must be destroyed to stop them.

Overlord (2018): Soldiers are fighting against practically unbeatable creatures (zombies), made by science experiments. Their lair (a laboratory) must be destroyed to stop them.

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Frequently asked questions - Spectral, movie (2016)

Is Spectral a horror movie?

It really depends on what you expect from a horror movie. There are some scenes in Spectral that might be scary for you. There are the spectres that can be frightening.

Is Spectral scary?

The Spectal movie is based on the action scenes, and not the scares. You might find some scenes scary, though.

What language do they speak in Spectral?

In Spectral, the locals speak a blend of Eastern-European languages (Romanian, Russian, Sloveninan), but the important parts are translated by the CIA lady.

Is Spectral film based on a book or comics?

No, Spectral is not based on either books or comics.

Is there a post credit scene in Spectral?

No, as I recall, there's no post credit scene in Spectral.

Will there be a Spectral 2?

As of 2021.06.14, there's no plan to create a sequel to Spectral.

Where can I watch Spectral online? Is Spectral available on Netflix? Is Spectral on Amazon?

As of 2021.06.05, Spectral is on Netflix.

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Resources - Spectral, movie (2016)


Spectral: Official article.


IMDB: Spectral (2016): Database article.

WikiPedia: Spectral: Database article.

Letterboxd: Spectral 2016: Database article.

Rotten Tomatoes: Spectral: Database article.


Daily News Hungary: Budapest demolished in new Netflix sci-fi film – TRAILER: Article about the creation of the visual effects.Ł/§

Reviews with no spoilers - Spectral film (2016)

Rabbit-Reviews: Spectral [2016]: Review article about the Spectral film with no spoilers.§

WardWorks (for Cross the Netflix Stream): Spectral Netflix Movie Review: Review article about the Spectral film with no spoilers.

Reviews with no spoilers - Spectral film (2016) - Hungarian

danialves (for Smoking Barrels): Spectral (2016) (in Hungarian): Review article about the Spectral film with no spoilers, in Hungarian.

English version by Google Translate

Fixxerx (for Cinegore): Spectral (2016) (in Hungarian): Review article about the Spectral film with no spoilers, in Hungarian.

English version by Google Translate

Reviews with spoilers - Spectral film (2016)


Reviews with spoilers - Spectral film (2016) - Indonesian

Muhammad Furqan (for Dafunda): Netflix Spectral Review, The Battle of Humans with Astral Creatures (in Indonesian): Review article of the Spectral movie, with spoilers. Includes a detailed plot summary, in Indonesian.§

English version by Google Translate

Analysis - Spectral movie (2016)

randomtester2 (for Physics Diary): The science in Netflix’s ‘Spectral’: Analysis article about the science in Spectral.§

Thilo Stöferle (for Ars Technica): The science of Spectral: Is that really how Bose–Einstein condensate behaves?: Analysis article about the science in Spectral. Includes commentary by the writer/director of the movie.

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Buying the product - Spectral, movie (2016)

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Have you seen the Spectral film? How do you like the movie? Would you recommend it to others? Do you know reviews or resources you'd like to add? What further thoughts do you have about it? Tell your opinion in the comments!


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