What I find so compelling about horror films is that they can parade in the guise of low rent, low budget schlock while posing more important questions few other genres take the time to explore. Be that the psychology of black sheep killers or the metaphysics of parallel worlds and the latter's effects on unsettled sanity. I won't argue that in most cases this is not true, as production houses like the Asylum consistently churn out irredeemable trash that has no value at face or hidden below. Even high budget fare pumped out of the vast vacuous halls of Hollywood are consistently terrible, nothing more than lazy remakes with no message or questions pondered.
Daniel Myrick's The Objective is an outstanding example of a horror film with a purpose. It's cerebral but not pretentious, esoteric and reveling in the chaos of nature. Disguised as a military thriller, The Objective burns slowly. Starting with a CIA agent, Ben Keynes, recruiting a group of tier one operators, Special Forces men to scour rural Afghanistan for a cleric well respected by the Afghan community. Just months after the chaos of September 11th, the cleric has been in contact with Keynes regarding something that the CIA has developed great interest in, but of course remains "eyes only" for the men accompanying Keynes on the mission.
Even to those of us watching the film, the mission itself is never fully clear or realized, despite the continual narration by Keynes, played with gusto by Jonas Ball. Ultimately seeking a device that holds unimagined power, with hopes to witness how it's wielded for research, it's only glimpsed through the duration of the film. It's more of a McGuffin, propelling the movie along its axis where we watch the interactions of the men, slowly driven mad by their quest. It's a modern rendition of Fitzcarraldo, a low budget and different angled Valhalla Rising.
The more the men search for their objective, the more they become lost, and the more lost they become the more disoriented and insane they're driven. Without water or food, and brief but chaotically devastating skirmishes with roving Taliban rebels striking out at their weak points like wolves preying on infected sheep. No sooner does the action occur then it's silenced and the characters in the film left demoralized.
The real mission of the movie is to leave us as disoriented as the cast by the time it ends. There's an incredible amount of tension that builds and builds, escalating to a raw nerve that lingers well after the credits roll. It's difficult to really slap a label on the film, be it a horror film or disturbed science fiction. The brutality that happens is menacing and underhanded, and even while conspicuously otherworldly, it's never clear from where the impending onslaughts strike out from. I think that's a good deal of what makes the picture so compelling, aided in part as well by the excellent cast. From Jonas Ball down to the actors portraying the Special Forces operators, playing their roles as if they had previous knowledge of what mannerisms their roles would hold, lending legitimacy to their parts, and allowing us to invest more in their characters.
Combined with the phenomenal cinematography, making their Afghanistan look otherworldly and ominous. Ravaged by eons of harsh weather and unforgiving cultures clashing together as well as with outsiders, it compliments the film and narrative perfectly. The quote, "the only way to tell what decade it is in Afghanistan is by the soldiers' uniforms" fits perfectly here, as it's also beautiful and timeless, though forboding and tumultuous at the same time. Accounting for that along with the minimalist soundtrack, the movie has an admirable ambiance not often attained by filmmakers working on higher budgets with A-list actors.
I honestly would be hard pressed to pin down exactly what it is about the film that I find so enthralling. Like the Last Winter, Larry Fessendon's most recent opus, it's somewhat cautionary and green in mind, assaulting the viewers with questions that are more subliminal than straight forward and will fester in the minds of more thoughtful viewers. I'm still unsure of the actual message beneath the surface, but there are so many potential answers that it can well be just about anything the viewer interprets. That in itself exemplifies what it is I find so appealing about cinema; as art it's left to the watcher to define. Maybe sometimes we need something that ambiguous to really inspire us and make us think, even during a movie disguised as nothing more than small budget military thriller. I can only recommend you watch it, not tell you what you might get out of it.