Directed by Jordan Graham
Jordan Graham’s Specter is an interesting film, if only for the real-life natural disaster utilized as the backdrop for the events to come. Set in the middle of a tsunami in the small coastal town of Midground, the films follows friends Chase Lombardi and Chris Benadictus as they set out on a mission to acquire a new unnamed drug before meeting with their friends at Chase’s home in the woods for a party. Along the way, bizarre things begin to occur. People are seen standing on street corners barely moving, while their potential drug dealer Max acts erratic, spooking Chase and Chris. Eventually the party gets under way, and as the night presses on, it becomes clear that something is happening in town, prompting the friends to try and discover if it’s due to the tsunami or something far more sinister.
Specter is a difficult movie to watch not because it’s not good, but because its numerous flaws hide an incredibly interesting premise. It’s equal parts horror, science fiction, and psychological thriller, and plays with numerous ideas concerning the trials and tribulations of small town life and drug use. Sadly, the restrictions inherent to the found footage format prevent the ideas from forming a coherent narrative. As a result, it feels less like a story than it does a series of clips cobbled together in an attempt to create one, which is ironic in its own right given Graham’s exclusion of the pre-film explanation of the footage often found in the genre. It’s designed to keep you guessing, keeping things vague until the very end, but it’s all so disjointed that it just doesn’t make much sense.
The camera, and thus the story, jumps forward in time, indicated by a timestamp in the corner of the screen. It becomes disorienting, compounded by the darkness of the film and the tendency to forgo explanation for just about every scene. You never know what’s truly going on until it’s literally explained to you, prefaced by “In case you don’t know what’s going on…” followed by an explanation of the preceding events. Shortly before the midway point of the film, the group of friends take their newly acquired drugs, suggesting that what they’re experiencing is a side-effect of the trip. Life altering tsunamis notwithstanding, the tendency for a group of friends to get together in the middle of one to trip can be seen as representative of the effects of small town boredom, but beyond this, any attempts at making some sort of point becomes muddled through the exceedingly confusing execution.
The scares are few and far between, though an attempt is made to create a slow burn thriller, rather than an all out fright fest. The start of the film features some impressive footage of the tsunami, and the incredibly muted look of the daylight scenes adds some interesting atmosphere to the film. As Chase and Chris make their way through town, avoiding the tsunami’s waters, there’s a lot of banter and vague allusions to what might be happening in the town of Midground. Once the sun sets, the constraints of the medium cause the tension to disappear into the darkness (literally and figuratively), replaced by camera trickery and confusion. The screen becomes distorted and succumbs to what can be seen as tracking errors, while the audio comes and goes. It’s designed to confuse, but it’s mostly just obnoxious, if only due to its frequency.
Specter tries to play with a number of ideas, from the perils of small town boredom to the hysteria caused by natural disasters, but it never really amounts to anything poignant or, well, coherent. Save for an exceedingly creepy and effective scene that, ironically, only works because it’s found footage (no joke, though, it’s easily one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever witnessed, and Graham should be commended for it), Specter is mostly underwhelming and, in some instances, downright infuriating.
2 out of 5