Starring Steve Bacic, Michael Madsen, Chris Kramer, Gary Stretch, Francesco Quinn
Directed by Allan Harmon
If nothing else, at least I can say that Afghan Knights isn’t your typical supernatural thriller, although the way some of it played felt quite familiar. If not for the pre-title sequence viewers probably wouldn’t even know they were watching a supernatural thriller until close to the one-hour mark when that part of the plot finally kicks into gear. A unique blending of action and the supernatural – I can’t think of too many other movies about private military contractors transporting an unseemly warlord out of Afghanistan only to get trapped in a remote cave with a sack full of ancient arrows containing the wrathful spirits of Genghis Khan and his Mongols. That’s a new one to me.
Sgt. Pepper – yes, that’s the character’s name and thankfully they only make the obvious joke once – is an ex-soldier turned total burnout. His best friend was taken captive and left for dead during their last tour of duty in Afghanistan. Still traumatized, he returns to civilian life and has his marriage and family life completely fall apart. Nightmares and flashbacks plague him constantly. Needless to say, his life is in shambles.
Pepper is on the verge of suicide when CIA operative Michael Madsen shows up to offer him a significantly tidy sum if he can scrounge together a half dozen or so of his ex-platoon (also now ex-military) for what’s supposed to be the fairly simple task of transporting an Afghan warlord who struck a deal with the CIA in return for safe transport to Pakistan. Well, as fairly simple as things can be when one has to sneak across a foreign border into a war-torn nation and then sneak across another foreign border without coming under fire from either side.
Pepper is a bit leery of his old acquaintance from the CIA, a guy he knows to be more than a little shady. Justifiably so given how they’re doing all the hard work while he spends his time in a well guarded fort having much sex with a prostitute. I can’t help but wonder if the guarantee of spending much of his screen time getting it on with a beautiful naked woman played a role in Madsen agreeing to take this otherwise minor part.
Pepper still accepts the contract, as do his misfit colleagues, who need varying degrees of convincing themselves.
The Afghani warlord turns out to be every bit the prick one would expect a third world nation warlord to be. This is a guy, after all, who when told that they don’t have enough room to transport all his stuff, opts to murder two of his servants in order to make more room. What really irks Sgt. Pepper about this guy is how badly he treats Mrs. Afghani warlord. Much to Pepper’s increasing disdain, the warlord has no problem smacking her around and even raping her when he’s in the mood and she’s not. And to him, any interaction between her and any of the soldiers causes his misogynistic Muslim side to start calling her a whore and smacking her around some more.
They also soon encounter a British operative who may or may not have an agenda all his own, much to their detriment.
All this goes on for almost an hour, a frequently middling hour at that, until the group finally finds themselves under heavy fire out in the Afghan mountains. Stranded and trying to figure a way out of their predicament, the group takes shelter in a gigantic cave in a nearby mountain. That they just happen to find Pepper’s presumed dead friend from years earlier also taking refuge in this cave alive and well should seem like far too amazing a coincidence, but Pepper just regards it as a miracle, even after hearing the highly improbable explanation the guy gives him about how he got there.
Then again, it’s not nearly as far fetched as the true explanation that involves a sack of arrows containing the spirits of 13th Century warlord Genghis Khan and some of his toughest foot soldiers. Unleashed, the spirits begin picking the soldiers off one-by-one. Not Pepper, however, as they want his warrior soul to join them for all eternity because his friend put in a good word for him with the ancient ghosts.
The movie does a better job explaining the whole soul-possessing arrows deal than I ever could here so I’m just going to focus on wishing the filmmakers had done something with this premise a tad more inventive than dream-like scenes involving a spectral Mongol hotty doing a seductive dance to lure someone to his death or galloping horseback phantasms chasing characters through the cave. Since the plotting and characterizations had all been too thin as it was up until the supernatural element finally kicked in, trying to introduce a psychological aspect to the ghost story doesn’t quite click like it should. And that psychological aspect still makes this just another ghost flick where the ghosts use hallucinations and such to mess with their victims’ minds before killing them.
Afghan Knights is certainly an eclectic melding of war movie mechanics and supernatural horror, but it’s one that’s often too stagnant for its own good, always choosing to lightly fizzle when it should be crackling, whether it be the action scenes or supernatural thrills. The uniqueness of the scenario – trained soldiers trapped inside a cave with Mongolian warrior spirits on a warpath unleashed from mystical arrows – just barely keeps things intriguing enough to not be totally bored by the lackluster manner in which it all plays out. I’d still say Afghan Knights failed more than it succeeded, though a noble failure.
2 out of 5
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