Dir: Daniel Myrick. 2008. USA. 90 mins.
Daniel Myrick co-directed the indie commercial sensation The Blair Witch Project with Eduardo Sanchez in 1999. It's nearly a quantum leap from three student campers lost in rural Maryland in 1994 to a gaggle of U.S. Special Ops in an arid, remote section of southern Afghanistan in 2001, but the template for what plot there is in The Objective and its faux-sci-fi cum metaphysical mood are almost identical.
Shifting locales from a quiet mid-Atlantic state to a horrendous war zone still under Taliban control does not alter the narrative's facile crypticism nine years on. The Objective is a cheap-looking film clearly shot on a low budget with a small cast of sub-par thesps. Only some of the striking rock formations in Morocco that substitute for rural Afghanistan entice on any level. This will not fly as a cult film, and foreign audiences will be turned off at the shameless use of the most recent tragic phase of this desolate part of the world as a backdrop for the filmmaker's simplistic, self-professed obsession with supernatural phenomena.
The marketing scheme for The Blair Witch Project was to push the story line of the disappeared students as a true one, validated by photo and audio equipment found a year after the trio dropped out of sight. In The Objective, which Myrick co-wrote, as he did for Blair Witch, CIA Special Agent Ben Keynes (Jonas Ball) pretends to be using a camera as he trudges along with the soldiers, but in fact this clandestine spy is handling a high-tech infrared device and transmitting information to his colleagues back home. The soldiers are but pawns in a larger mission, a far cry from what they think they are doing; they are marked as sacrifices necessary for the good of the rest of us. Honchos at the agency have been baffled by signals emanating from supernatural phenomena called Vimanas, mistaking them for nuclear arms in the hands of Al-Qaeda.
At least a somewhat bigger-budget film like Charlie Wilson's War showed empathy for the ongoing tragic history of the Afghanis, who have been continuously colonised for centuries. Here the only respect shown for the culture is Kays Al-Atrakchi's superb indigenous score. Pedestrian attempts at depicting ill-defined holy men and forcing links between them and colonial history do not enrich or explain the milieu; they feel like they were created that morning in hair-and-makeup.
What plot exists involves a feud between Keynes and clueless, hyper-macho Special Ops leader Major Wally Hamer (Anderson), a control freak who has lost control to this outsider with an agenda. The two feud, but Keynes has the advantage because the film makes him the narrator-a bad one spouting cliches, but unnecessarily there nonetheless. As the supernatural vimanas close in, and it's never clear what they might really be, the men are either pulverised or go insane. They have been sabotaged on a daily basis, but the whys and wherefores are never clarified. The abstractions intended to signify the otherworldly come across more as lame acid flashbacks than anything that grunts or CIA leaders could take as serious threats to mankind.
Myrick does know how to use close-ups and medium shots effectively, but at 44, he should have graduated from student-film mode and expanded into new terrain. Forget the web: For The Objective, there is no safety net.
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Michael C. Williams