Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Michael C. Williams, Sam Hunter, Jeff Prewett, Jon Huertas
Directed by Daniel Myrick
It’s not surprising, given that this movie is from one of the directors of The Blair Witch Project, that there are numerous similarities in the two films. You’ve got a remote location that dominates the narrative. The path of the character collective is a disorienting labyrinth that implodes on itself to increasing interpersonal degrees and levels of frustration as the story plays out. You’ve got a strange, unknowably ominous force that creeps in and out of the tale, mostly at night. And you’ve even got the return of Michael C. Williams, who played a pivotal role in Blair Witch.
The big difference here is that it’s set in Afghanistan, and there is an unavoidable political hot potato at the heart of the story. Things kick off in November 2001 with a mercenary-type unit being co-opted by the CIA, under the ruse of going into the Afghani desert wastes based on intel relating to a potential nuclear threat from the Taliban.
Here’s where the movie’s moral ambiguity got in the way of the narrative and atmospheric impact for me. As someone who is 1000% against the Bush administration-engineered “War on Terror” and everything it stands for, I was waiting for an angle to either attack or applaud in this film. It’s all there as far as what you’d need to discuss in relation to the issue. You’ve got the US military in Afghanistan using ops to sway the regional pendulum in a way that suits US interests, you’ve got the influence of (or lack thereof) these efforts in relation to the Taliban and how that plays into things, the interaction with locals, military dudes handing out candies to kids, IED attacks, RPG’s fired by angry insurgents standing on cliffs in mountain passes … the works. In The Objective there’s only one team of Americans and one Afghani guide, but the essence of the USA/NATO military presence in Afghanistan is very much there in narrative microcosm.
So, what I was trying to see throughout this film was where the director stood as far as what’s happening in Afghanistan, or how he sees the events unfolding, the propaganda aspect of “hearts and minds” vs. the on-the-ground reality, how political conjecture about military action and devastation is negated in the wake of brushed-off collateral civilian death tolls, how cultures are being “appealed” to, manipulated, corrupted, and eventually turned away by use of force in conjunction with political and military exploitation … that kind of stuff. So you can see that this film was viewed through deeply shit colored glasses – simply put, I really don’t like what’s happening over there, and like some of the characters in this story, I don’t think we’re getting anything near the whole story.
Anyway, this movie is handled with absolute, tight-lipped seriousness all the way through, so any aspect of commentary on what was, to me at least, a very obvious political-perspective angle felt constrained. Maybe that was deliberate, maybe not. Who knows? Maybe the film is designed to scare, but also stir the pot in terms of topical discussion.
What I was left with at the end was total ambiguity. A couple of lines of dialogue stuck out. One was by the American figurehead of the mission, who said “What would happen if these people had the power to destroy other nations? You could only hope that by that time they would be tired of fighting.” Another line by one of the soldier-mercs was “We’re here to kill terrorists. The rest is paperwork.”
Now, if you were like me, and totally against the Afghanistan situation as it stands, you’d be able to condemn these lines as simplistic, imperialistic, xenophobic, ignorant, and so on. But if you were for the Afghanistan scenario as it has been carried out militarily by the West, thinking it all as being just and necessary, these lines, said as they were in the film without a hint of black humor or satire, could reflect exactly what drives the support you would feel for the situation and the West’s ongoing involvement in it.
So, as you can probably tell, this whole for-or-against aspect was a major distraction throughout the film for me. After seeing the film, I’d be very interested in hearing what the director’s take on the Afghanistan situation actually is.
On to the mechanics of the film, for horror fans. … first off, the locations (Morocco posing as Afghanistan) are amazing. Over time you really get the sense of being way out there in a place you could never find your way back from. Once the characters are in the outlands the aesthetic barely shifts, but it works visually because you get a tangible sense of being lost. The militaristic character ensemble was grizzled and serious to a fault, giving things a straight-faced nod to the feel of Predator (which was enhanced even more by the ongoing perspective of the goings-on through an infrared camera in the hands of a key character). The ominous, potentially Islam-related energy/force they encounter intermittently is very intriguing, but I don’t think they gave us quite enough of it in the entirety of the film. Either that or the film could’ve been shortened by 15 minutes, because I started to feel the frustration of the characters over time in a way that wasn’t fun or white-knuckle inducing, just frustrating. As in “tell me what the fuck is going on or I’m going to shoot you” kind of frustrating. Like the characters said, multiple times.
But overall, it was well done and the topical narrative context is sure to get gums flapping. It’s also noteworthy, in my limited exposure to word of mouth about The Objective, how varied the response to the film is even if it is mostly in the positive sense. I give it a guarded recommendation. Fantasia programmer Simon Laperrière enthusiastically hails it as one of the best horror films this year, and cohort Mitch Davis has nothing but good things to say about it as well.
So see it for yourself. I think this is a movie worth your time. For more than one reason.
3 out of 5
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