The Porcelain Doll
Netflix’s latest Brazilian thriller is a campy, quirky teen drama that does a relatively good job balancing its different elements. Although its timeline jumps are a bit gimmicky and the production design leans on the cheap side, the diverse cast and interesting overarching story should be enough to see you stick it out for the long haul with this one.
Episode 1 of Spectros begins with a ghostly apparition talking about life and death. Unblinking, she smiles into the camera and disappears from view as a piece of paper flutters to the ground.
We begin in 1858 at the Cemetery Of Sorrow. A family run away from a ghost to a church shrouded in fog. They beg the priest inside for help but it’s too late – an army of ghosts find them. The child meanwhile, hides and pleads with a doll to “do it”. As the ghouls look at the doll, they suddenly disappear.
We then skip forward to modern day Brazil. Pardal sits in the police station with that very same doll we saw in 1858. In separate rooms are Carla and Mila, also interrogated while the police suspect they’re hiding something. It turns out these three met each other the day before, which sees us once again skip back, this time to 24 hours prior.
Pardal works in a garage and the car he’s working on happens to be Mila’s Father’s. Pardal quits his job after sticking up for the girl and proceeds to walk her to school. On the way, he pickpockets a man and steals a magazine, something that visibly annoys Mila. However, as she heads into school she’s bullied by Carla, who has a headache and rushes out the stall, where Mila calls after and admits they used to be friends.
Pardal returns home in the slums to find his brother Leo trying to prank him. With no food in the house, they’re living on the edge and to make matters worse, numerous bills are piling up. This makes his decision to quit his job even more questionable.
However, the attention turns to his brother’s investigation, which sees him looking into spooky occurrences around town. Pardal pays him no heed though and tells him to do his homework, promising to go out and work so they can survive.
That work happens to be small-time crime for the Chinese Mafia, which we see Pardal getting involved with after an incident involving Mila’s Father, Celso. After gaining help from a mysterious stranger, Mila notices symbols on the sole of her Father’s boots.
As we skip forward again, between another interjected police station segment, we see our trio of characters making it to Zenobia’s house. Inside, they find a burning corpse clutching a doll. As they rush outside and drive away, they strike the burning corpse and we cut back to the station again, as the kids declare nothing is wrong. Only, something clearly is as we see the final shot of the episode showing Carla clutching the weird doll from the start of the episode.
Between the unlikable characters and some unnecessarily contrived time jumps back and forth, Spectros gets off to a bit of a rocky start. The story itself is quite interesting but the flashbacks lack any sort of dramatic tension given we know they survive and are sat in the police station.
Already, the show is starting to bring in some awkward character decisions, especially Pardal’s choice to quit his job and work with the Mafia instead. Added to that the cheap production design, with the inside of the car clearly done in a studio, it all feels a bit dated and campy.
However, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously and with numerous film references and other nods toward the supernatural elements, Spectros does just enough to keep it within the realm of campy fun rather than overblown nonsense, much to the benefit of the picture. It’s a thin line but one that, so far at least, Spectros is just about managing to navigate.