3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
A psychological thriller that'll make you rethink that vacation trip in the desert, "The Objective" is an original edge-of-your-seat puzzle that reaches its goal by stirring the imagination and quickening your pulse.
The plot begins with CIA Agent Keynes (stoic Jonas Ball) addressing a Special Forces unit headed by Chief Wally Hamer (beefy Matt Anderson, the team's brusque father figure). The team has been selected to help Keynes find Mohammed Aban, an A.W.O.L Afghan cleric.
As the men near what they believe to be their destination, a series of strange occurrences leads them to believe that Keynes has lied about this being a routine mission. They're ambushed; one of the men is critically wounded, but they manage to exact their revenge, killing two, possibly three of their attackers. When the squad goes to find the men they've killed, their bodies have disappeared. The following morning, the body of their fallen comrade is missing and other body parts have been scattered about as a warning not to continue.
The team's radio goes dead, and their GPS fries up like a breakfast special at a greasy spoon. A vehicle speeds in their direction, its headlights shining as it races down the road toward them. Then the headlights split apart and take flight. They hear the blades of their supply helicopter above them, but can't see the craft, which suddenly disappears without a sound. Their guide, Abdul, becomes hopelessly lost, their water supply dwindles, and the truck they commandeered overheats.
In the morning, the canteens the men filled with water only the night before are now filled with sand. The indecipherable incidents with mirages that kill prove to be too much for Abdul, who believes the team is now cursed (actually he says "curr-sed."). Abdul takes a short walk off a long cliff, leaving Keynes and the team to fend for themselves. The men are attacked again (or are they?). This time, they're illuminated by a bright light that exposes their position. Hamer orders a counter attack. Two soldiers head toward the light on a dead run and are incinerated - poof - Special Ops confetti. Fed up with Keynes secrecy, Hamer demands an explanation:
Hamer: If I find out we're out here dying while you guys (the C.I.A.) go out on a wild goose chase, I'll put a bullet in you myself!
Keynes: We all have our orders to follow, Chief.
Hamer: Well maybe you haven't heard, but dead men don't follow orders.
Dehydrated, demoralized, the team pushes on, hoping to find water and complete their assignment. Keynes finally relents, telling the suffering soldiers the real purpose of his mission. Whether of not anyone will be alive to complete it is what makes "The Objective" a desert delight.
Part of what makes "The Objective" work is the unforgiving landscape. The desert is as much a character in the strange turnoff events as anyone in the Special Ops team. It's majestic, beautiful, yet at the same time endless, threatening and confining thanks to the film's claustrophobic script.
"The Objective" was directed by Daniel Myrick, who helmed the revolutionary scare flick "The Blair Witch Project." Chalk it up as another small budget, tightly scripted winner with an unknown cast that thrives in the boiling Moroccan sun. The members of the team act like a military family - not entirely surprising given that some of the actors are ex-service men. Matt Anderson (Chief Wally Hamer) is a buff and gruff former stunt man whose Hulk Hogan toughness makes him utterly believable as the team's commander. Jonas Ball (Keynes) is weasely and single-minded, maybe a little too boyish for his role, but he's a strict, effective Boy Scout. Vince Degetau is moving as Jon Huertas, the company joker hoping to avoid a grim fate:
Keynes: You're a good solder. Your country would be proud.
Huertas: My country will never know who I am.
Chems-Eddine Zinoune (Abdul) successfully captures the fear and superstitions of the denizens of the desert. His wide-eyed terror helps amp up the film's supernatural notions. Cheers to Jeff Prewitt, who plays Australian Sergeant Sadler. My immediate reaction when he opened his mouth was, "Oy, what's an Aussie doing in the desert with the U.S. Special Forces?" Sadler is the regiment sage! It turns out Sadler is as familiar with desert lore as Abdul. His presence allows the audience to learn about the grim fate of the 44th regiment, and he's also familiar with a legend that can be traced as far back as Alexander the Great that may be responsible for the deadly optical illusions the men have been seeing. The other actors blend together like men who've known each other and worked together for a long time, not an easy task for novice actors.
An Oasis of Extras...
You won't object to the extras, which are highlighted by "The Making of...Scenes from the Film," and interviews with Director Daniel Myrick and Stephanie Martin, the film's Director of Photography. "The Making of..." plays off the camaraderie between the cast and crew with Jeff Prewitt spooning out the charm. Ex-grunt Tim Cole (Sam Hunter) says, "It feels like a real military unit when you're off camera. The film world and the military world are a lot a like. Both require a lot of discipline." Nick Teta, the film's military advisor, puts the cast through shooting drills, and Matt Anderson carefully choreographs a fight scene with co-star Jonas Ball, who says with a sigh of relief, "I tried to look like I knew what I was doing." Myrick delves into the film's objective: "I wanted the audience to be moved; creeped out...I like films that walk a line of ambiguity."
"The Objective" sets out to thrill and entertain the audience with a no name cast on a shoe string budget. Objective accomplished.