Starring: Marina Sirtis, Dean Haglund, Tucker Smallwood and Lauren Birkell
Director: Phil Leirness
Shadowland Films, LLC
Certificate: Not Certified
Running time: 98 mins
Currently showing at film festivals

Unable to cope with her existence as it stands, 16-year-old Kelly decides that she would rather be with her father than her workaholic mother Laura Lee. The only problem is that her father died several years ago. Her suicide attempt doesn't go to plan, but this acts as a wake-up call for her mother, who decides to take Kelly away from it all for a few weeks. While on holiday Kelly comes into contact with a strange young man who she instantly connects with. But who is he and why does he keep vanishing into thin air?...

The most notable thing about Spectres - or the thing that most reviewers are likely to pick up on - is the fact that it reads like a Who's Who of Sci-Fi TV and movies. There are actors from Star Trek (The Next Generation and Enterprise), The X-Files, Stargate and the Bond movie Licence to Kill. Yet, thankfully, the writer and the director have cast all of their principle actors against type.

Marina Sirtis is not the understanding and sensitive Troi we have come to know and love. She plays the bitch mother from Hell. Okay... that may be a little over the top. She is probably better described as a misunderstood working mother who has buried herself in her work rather than come to terms with the tragic death of her husband... but boy does she pull out all the stops.

And Dean Haglund is not a nerdy computer geek who is convinced of government conspiracy theories. He's a down to earth psychiatrist who is trying to save the mind of a very mixed up 16-year-old. In his role as Doctor Halsey, he proves that he can play sensitive, leading roles... hopefully something he'll get to do more of in the future.

So, straight away, you have to take your hat off to some bold casting decisions. Sirtis's character really does come across as a total bitch, which just goes to prove that her acting talent does stretch a lot further than what we have previously seen - even when she appeared in Stargate SG-1 she was playing a Troi-type character. And just when she seems to be mellowing, off she goes again into tantrum city. This character really does require a certain calibre of actress.

Over-acting could have been so easy during the tantrum scenes, and under-acting could have been an issue in the "nice mom" scenes. Thankfully, not only is Sirtis's acting up to the challenge, but she also really seems to have a fantastic grasp of what the character is all about. Add this to the fact that she has an electrifing onscreen chemistry with Lauren Birkell, as her daughter Kelly, and you have a very believable disfuntional family unit.

Alexis Cruz is great as the mysterious young man who Kelly starts to fall for, Loanne Bishop is perfect as a creepy, unhinged "ghost", and Tucker Smallwood also turns in a fantastic performance, which instantly has the audience warm to his character. But it is the young Birkell who really steals the limelight. Her take on the character is spot on. Moody one minute, in control of her destiny the next, this is a real complex role - and one that Birkell takes as her own with amazing success. If her performance had been bad, then the movie just wouldn't have worked. Thankfully it isn't and, as a result, the movie works a treat.

The project is an ambitious one and director Phil Leirness should be proud of the work he's managed to achieve here. With so many actors from small and large screen I'm wondering how many egos Leirness had to keep under control on a day-to-day basis. Not only that, but he manages to entice some fantastic performances out of the younger cast. God only knows how intimidating it was for Birkell working with so many famous faces, but she turns in the performance of her life. Also, Leirness gets a great performance out of the young Alexander Agate, who plays a sweet, if somewhat creepy, child.

This film is not really a ghost movie as such - being more about the strained relationship between a mother and daughter. In many respects, it is a haunting story about isolation, regret and a lack of communication - something most families will be able to identify with.

So far, this movie has been confined to convention and movie festival screenings, which is a great shame. Spectres has a lot to offer a cinema-going audience. It is intelligent, it is funny and it is creepy.

The only real problem is that Hollywood likes to be able to stick movies into a genre (horror, romantic comedy, sci-fi etc.) and Spectres breaks the mould on what has gone before. More than simply a ghost story, or an uplifting tale about human interaction, this movie defies any of Tinseltown's cosy categories.

Another thing that would have helped the production would have been a slightly longer running time. There are a couple of scenes which would have benefited greatly from more fluid dialogue. For example the introduction of Franklin (Tucker Smallwood) could have been handled a little better - some of the dialogue seemed a little too rushed, as though a lot about his history needed to be conveyed to the audience in a very short space of time.

But this is a very small niggle, in what is an exceptionally well produced, directed and acted production. Sci-Fi nuts will love the fact that there are so many familiar faces portraying totally new roles and anyone who likes an engaging movie that offers that little something different will also be impressed. In fact, it's a movie for everyone.

If Spectres goes straight to DVD and video without receiving a proper movie release it will be a great shame.

Ray Thompson