The Objective (2007)

Hi all, Nate here. Just thought I'd tell you a little bit about a movie I watched over the weekend on Youtube that turned out to be vastly better than expected (I have historically low expectations for movies). It's a creepy/unsettling film, but in a good way, and it really was one of the best I've seen in a while (but then again I do watch a lot of crap…). Let’s get right to it.

As the movie opens, it's late 2001, just months after 9/11 and an American Special Forces team is deep in the chilly bush of Afghanistan searching for suspected terrorists with a rogue nuke (or so they've been told...). Along with the trigger-fingers are a CIA spook named Keynes and a local guide named Abdul. The SF guys all have names, of course, but the stuntmen and bit-part actors playing them are essentially interchangeable parts in camo pants so there’s no real point in learning their names. This is the Spook's story and his perspective drives the narrative from start to finish.

Our CIA guy.

Also driving the movie is the fantastic setting of “Afghanistan“, all barren rocky mountains and winter desert scrub, as forbidding a place as you can imagine. But instead of just using some county park in Southern California right off the highway, the production crew actually flew all the actors and crew across the Atlantic to Morocco for location shoots (eek, how much did that cost?). This decision helps make an average movie a great movie for me, if your physical terrain doesn't match up to the story you are trying to tell then you lose the audience quickly.

Entering the rough.

So after tromping around in the wilds for a while the team reaches a point in the mountains where everything starts to fall apart. Their Land Rover punks out, the radios don’t work, the compass is screwy, and people they can’t see keep taking shots at them. On foot now, they’re lost, confused, unsure, but still determined to reach “the objective” somewhere up in some backwater canyon and to make it back alive. A lot of spooky crap starts to happen to the team, stuff they can‘t explain. Lights fly up out of nowhere, phantom sounds and chants keep them awake, creepy sentient dust devils seem to appear and disappear at random, the sort of weirdness that keeps everyone on edge and shooting at shadows. But they keep going, as that's their job, moving deeper and deeper into a region where everything seems to want to kill them. The Spook has a camera and we often see scenes through his POV, which makes it a bit more creepy at times.

Things getting real.

Eventually they find an elderly man in a cave who, like the old Crusader from The Last Crusade, might have been here for the last 150 years. The suggestion is that "something" killed off a bunch of British colonial footsoldiers way back in 1842 and maybe this old man is somehow the last survivor. There are some other phantom soldiers here as well, and the old man dies and they flee into the night. The water they got from the old man's cave turns to sand, and Abdul says they've been cursed and he means it.

Never fully explained, but that’s ok.

The group starts to slowly fracture at this point, all the unexplained stuff is hard on these weary soldiers who are used to black and white rules of guns and targets and orders. Down now to five soldiers, plus the Spook and Abdul, and they are out of water and way out of patience. The Army guys are pissed at the civilian Spook and especially pissed at Abdul, though they give him some slack because he's dying along with them. There are some great character moments here as everyone yells at each other, even if a couple of the guys are really over-acting badly (hey, the budget wasn't that much).

Topshelf costumes as well.

So a bright light suddenly appears nearby, accompanied by eerie chanting. Two soldier move to check it out and are vaporized (a fantastic VFX effect, btw). The rest return fire and the light fades away and then Abdul jumps off a cliff because he's convinced that they are cursed and are dead anyway. The Spook realizes that they might all die out here so now he's more determined to record everything that happens on his camera, which plays into the overused "found footage" trope that this movie is trying hard not to fall into. You know, all this is beginning to sound like a higher-production-value desert version of The Blair Witch Project, doesn’t it? Googlegooglegoogle…oh, hey, our director is Daniel Myrick, who coincidentally directed TBWP back in 1999. And the guy playing the Spook was one of the three lead actors in TBWP? I can see that, a lot of the same visual cues and themes here.

Like an early iPad with a thermal lens.

Down now to just four men left alive, and the Spook finally tells the remaining soldiers what they are really doing out here. It seems back in the 1980s the CIA training the Mujahadeen discovered the "dead area" that they’re in now where no locals dared to go. Then satellites saw a "triangle shaped UFO" in the area and the Spook was sent to find evidence. This revelation angers the soldiers (they hate to be lied to) but they have little choice but to continue with the mission. More attrition, more late-night chanting, more men vaporized (god, once again that's a fantastic effect!), and eventually just the Spook remains alive.

The Spook comes clean.

The Spook eventually finds an oasis and collapses, and as a bright light shines on him, a shadowy backlit figure appears through the marsh reeds. He grabs his camera with his last strength and starts to film as “something” approaches him. The entity touches his head and his mind explodes with knowledge via flashbacks and quick cuts of images stolen from wikipedia pages (that's a terrible visual montage, ugh). I’m not even sure what they were going for here, except to totally rip-off Independence Day and make me angry. But I’ll get over it, I don’t hold grudges.

Steady hand to the end.

In the best possible ending we could have hoped for, the Spook wakes up in a hospital bed in a secret Government base, clutching a golden idol and levitating off the bed (!). His final voice-over intones, "They will save us all." as we snap-cut to the credits. Seriously, sitting through the entire movie just for this 15-second final scene was totally worth it. It's these sorts of lost opportunities to show you all something unique and impressive that makes me wish that MMT was a video channel instead of just text and screen caps. Perhaps one day.

Great visual!

The end.

Written in August 2014 by Nathan Decker.

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