10 years after The Blair Witch Project, writer/director Daniel Myrick has left the mysterious, cruel woods of Burkittsville for the mysterious, cruel desert of Afghanistan. The result is the engaging and enigmatic sci fi/war thriller The Objective, film that raises far more questions than it answers.
In the weeks following September 11, 2001, CIA agent Ben Keynes (Jonas Ball) is sent into Afghanistan to investigate a radioactive heat signature picked up on surveillance photographs. He's embedded with a small groups of Special Ops soldiers (which includes Blair Witch's Mike Williams) as they head off into the remote desert mountains- of course, the soldiers don't know the true motivation for this trip. They believe they're seeking an esteemed religious figure who can help the U.S. turn the local populace against the Taliban...and while that is one facet of the mission, there are government secrets at play here. There's a very good chance that they're on a one way trip to the middle of nowhere.
The soldiers are ambushed by the resistance and soon find themselves wounded and running dangerously low on supplies with no backup coming. The human threat gives way to the unknown, and the platoon dwindles rapidly in the face of a faceless enemy. Exactly what does Keynes hope to find? Will he find anything?
The Objective succeeds tenfold in raising expectations. As the men draw closer to the source of the mysterious signals, the curiosity about what they'll discover becomes almost unbearable. Bright lights dart around the sky and vaporize soldiers in a flash- is there some sort of alien force holed up in the desert? The Afghanis call this area "sacred"- what do they actually know? The questions that will cross your mind during the film are not all be answered, which, while not completely surprising, is almost satisfying. Unfortunately, it's in the resolution that the movie falters- a problem some audiences had, in fact, with The Blair Witch Project. Undoubtedly this is a film that will be best enjoyed by those who find just as much pleasure in the journey as they do the destination.
The cinematography is simply stunning. The desert (Morocco masquerading as Afghanistan) feels like another character here, watching the men and waiting for them to falter so it can pounce. The word "remote" doesn't do justice to the sense of isolation that comes across here: this is a truly unforgiving and dangerous landscape.
Keynes uses a special infrared video camera on the journey to relay images and data back to the CIA, and as he draws nearer the target,we're treated to some creepy imagery- even if we don't know exactly what we're seeing. Though the "character with a camcorder" has been overutilized (and has lost most of its potency) in horror these days, it's effective in The Objective, as it adds to the mystery.
The Objective defies easy categorization- there's not much by way of "horror" here beyond a relentless feeling of the uncanny. Sci fi purists may bemoan the lack of...well, sci fi. The film is an intriguing exercise in "less is more", although for some less may simply be not enough.