2008’s The Objective is by now an “old” movie, at least in terms of reviews, and I normally wouldn’t bother, but it’s notable because I think it’s relatively obscure, AND it was directed by Daniel Myrick, who co-directed my number one horror movie, The Blair Witch Project. I literally had never heard of this movie at its time of release, and might have gone a long way without hearing of it if I hadn’t just finished the revised Danse Macabre, by Stephen King, in which he mentions it in his new foreword to that book. King isn’t the greatest of critics, but my first reading of Danse Macabre in the late 80s provided a giant reading list, which I plowed through, and since he was complimentary about The Blair Witch Project, maybe The Objective wouldn’t be so bad. Turns out, it isn’t.
I’m a fan of mixed genre movies – sure, there are probably no new stories to tell by now, but there are new ways to tell old stories, and I feel that when you take two distinct genres and throw them both into the meat grinder, what comes out the end can blend quite well. The Objective (also written by Myrick, with Mark Patton and Wesley Clark Jr) is such a movie.
The premise here is a familiar trope: tight lipped government official commandeers an elite team on a secret mission. You know it isn’t going to end up well. The time period is 2001, a couple of months after the events of September 11. The setting is Afghanistan, and the mission involves a trip to the mountains to find a person of interest – so, kind of like Zero Dark Thirty on the surface (though The Objective was made four years prior, and isn’t based on a actual events). One of the things I liked about the movie is that there’s a sparing introduction to all of the characters, and all of the characters have different personalities from the get go, and that’s from the writing, not from the budget. Earlier I reviewed the recent low budget horror movie Black Mountain Side, a movie that had no clear delineation over where one character stopped and another began. Even if a movie has little to no character development (I wouldn’t say The Objective has much in that department), a writer should make the effort to at least start with characters who are unique to themselves. In The Objective, that is clearly defined at the outset. We’re introduced to all of them in a nicely written introductory scene set already in-country. It got to the point immediately.
I actually found a lot to like about this movie. I felt all of the characters were well written and likeable in their own ways, and the pacing was good too – I also thought that the story was rolled out well enough. If you went in not knowing that the movie is a blend of military drama and sci-fi horror, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a straight military drama up until when odd things start to happen. I mostly come down on the side of supporting that decision – mostly, because I’d have liked to have seen these elements arrive a little sooner.
The company’s objective is to find a man in the mountains, and this man is clearly defined as some kind of mystic (“holy man” as he’s described by members of the Afghan tribe early in the movie), but the mission is secret enough that the audience only knows a little more than the soldiers. As the company heads off for the mountains with one of the villagers accompanying them as a paid guide, there’s really nothing that happens that doesn’t seem appropriate for the military drama side. The story is also narrated in first person by the government official leading the mission, faintly reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. I won’t give away any spoiler, but I can tell you when the shit hits the fan, the movie doesn’t shatter under the weight of macho posturing and endless firefights – the writers wisely decide to allow the military men to retain humanity and express fears and concerns. There’s no lines like “I ain’t got time to bleed,” in this movie, when there easily could have been. The consistency in tone is on point throughout, something I really appreciated.
Given that the movie does take a turn into the twilight zone, though, where it does fail is that I felt the incongruity of the mixing of genres could have been played up a little more at times. The movie I can think of comparing it to best is Baskin, which starts off as a cop movie, but quickly turns into a full on horror movie with some seriously weird elements. The Objective has some weird elements, but I wanted more, and in an odd way when the movie ended, it did remind me how I felt the first time I saw Picnic At Hanging Rock. I am all about weird stuff – in fact, I much prefer weird over what often passes for “horror” – and The Objective contains weird elements, it just doesn’t push too hard on that door to the unknown outside, and it could and should have.
I was really disappointed in the ending too – sure, it’s strange, but it feels too disconnected to the events of the movie proper, and indeed, is kind of forced to append a small story onto it during the end credits. It almost feels like the writers couldn’t think of an appropriate ending, decided to do something off the wall, then realized that they needed to tack something onto it to make it more palatable. I didn’t hate the ending, and it doesn’t undo what comes before it, but it isn’t very good at all.
It’s odd that Myrick doesn’t have a stronger presence in the movie business. Like I said, I’m a huge fan of The Blair Witch Project, and The Objective shows a director that clearly knows his way around story, actors, and photography, so why he hasn’t ascended the ladder is a bit of a mystery in itself. It’s flawed for sure, but I ended up liking it quite a bit.