In The Objective, set a few days after the 9/11 attacks, a CIA agent assembles a team of Special Forces soldiers to journey into the mountains of Afghanistan to look for a prominent cleric – ostensibly, at least. Guided by one of the locals, the group gradually loses its bearings, is hassled by seemingly supernatural phenomena, turns on itself, and eventually realizes it is being terrorized by something just barely out of sight.
If this plot bears more than a passing resemblance to The Blair Witch Project, that's probably not a coincidence. The Objective (now available as a video-on-demand release from IFC) was directed by Daniel Myrick, who co-directed the low-budget phenomenon Blair Witch a decade ago. The Objective isn't as innovative or terrifying as Myrick's best-known effort, but it is a creepy, skillfully made thriller.
For most of its running time The Objective keeps the viewer on edge for precisely the same reason Blair Witch worked so well (in my opinion, at least; I know many people who hated that movie, in no small part because of the hype, but I maintain that it was one of the most frightening films I've ever seen).
The doomed characters in Blair Witch — and the audience — couldn't see exactly what was stalking them. Until the end of the film, neither do the characters in The Objective. Mysterious lights appear on the ground and take off into the sky, Taliban fighters' bodies mysteriously disappear, strange triangular structures are visible in the distance, and geographical formations seem to appear and disappear. But what, exactly, is going on?
Eventually, it becomes clear that the mission isn't really about finding a cleric, but investigating supernatural phenomena. Only CIA agent Benjamin Keynes (Jonas Ball) knows the objective from the start, and his hand-picked team, needless to say, does not take well to being duped, especially when it becomes clear that none of them are likely to come out alive.
Things do not improve when the team runs of out of water, some of which mysteriously turns to sand. (I dare anyone to watch The Objective and not run straight for the Brita jug immediately thereafter.)
The ending of The Objective, unfortunately, is something of a letdown. Without giving anything away, we're told exactly what Keynes and his team were looking for, but it's hard to tell exactly what happened to them once they — the survivors, at least — found it. It may never be known if it was Myrick's choice to leave the ending somewhat ambiguous, or he just didn't have the budget to film the climax he wanted.
Jonas Ball doesn't seem right for the lead role, either. In particular, he seems far too young to be a veteran agent who spent time in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation; and compared to the impressive supporting cast, Ball gives a rather flat and lifeless performance. Some of the dialogue (co-written by Myrick, Mark Patton, and Wesley Clark, Jr., the son of you-know-who) is pretty hackneyed, too.
Still, The Objective is a tense and disturbing film, and it shows that Myrick — dismissed as a one-hit filmmaking wonder after his post-Blair Witch projects failed to gain much of an audience — still has something to offer. Here's hoping he keeps at it, and that he eventually gets a script and a budget worthy of his talent.