JULY 14, 2009
Well it’s taken ten years, but one of the Blair Witch Project guys (in this case, Dan Myrick) has finally made a film that comes close to living up to their promise. The Objective is hardly a perfect film, but it’s a good one; compelling for most of its running time and interesting in the ways that count, which is more than I can say for many of their other post Blair films.
So it’s kind of a bummer that it’s more or less the same movie as Blair, albeit shot by someone who knew how to hold a camera. Some folks go out in search of something, get lost almost instantly, see weird stuff, some of them disappear without a trace, supplies run low and tensions mount, and then everyone else dies. It’s in the desert instead of the woods, and it’s a group of soldiers instead of documentary filmmakers (though Mike Williams pops up in this group as well, albeit far too briefly for my tastes. Love that guy), but that won’t stop you from getting some serious déjà vu at times.
It also reminds me a bit of the recent film Red Sands, which also detailed a group of soldiers encountering strange phenomena while being stranded in the desert. Both were shot around the same time so I don’t think one was cribbing from the other, but whichever film you see first is likely to kill some of the novelty factor of the other; it’s a unique setting/situation for a horror film, and now we have two within months of each other.
Luckily for Objective, the film doesn’t need to rely on any extensive special effects to depict its monster. It’s just a triangular thing usually seen through a night vision camera, so even if it looked bad it’s seen through a poor image anyway. Folks just sort of vaporize in thin air, so there’s no gore or anything either (except for when a corpse is found halfway or so through the film - it looks like it was put in a meat grinder). Like with Blair, it keeps everything to your imagination, and allows the limited budget to be applied to things that matter a lot more than special effects.
What Red Sands certainly has over this movie, however, is lack of narration. The main character in Objective, played by newcomer Jonas Ball (if Myrick is going to hire no-names to topline his film, why not cast me? I still wear a Blair Witch shirt with pride!), never shuts the fuck up, and his droning is as annoying as I can recall. I’d rather listen to Kiefer Sutherland’s opening narration in the theatrical version of Dark City than this drivel. The ending gives us a sort of reason for the narration, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying or intrusive. It’s not a particularly complicated story; we don’t need someone breaking up otherwise eerily quiet scenes to tell us things like “Water is running low.” No shit.
The ending is also a bit of a sore spot for me. It leaves questions unanswered, but not in a creepy way like Blair's (Did Heather get knocked out, did she die, or did she simply vanish into thin air?). Then there is a news report with one of the characters' wives, who holds up a notebook that he sent her shortly before he disappeared. Knowing Myrick's habit of creating full universes in which his film is just a part of it, I wouldn't be surprised if this book was actually fleshed out, but as far as I know it's not available anywhere, so the scene just makes you feel like you're being setup for a sequel, not being invited to look beyond the movie (the website is pretty standard, some behind the scenes stuff but nothing "meta").
Before the end though, there IS a certain (and surprising) level of creepiness to some of the scenes. I don’t find the desert particularly scary (at least, not as much as the woods), but there are still a handful of eerie bits. I particularly liked when they go to drink from their canteens and find them all filled with sand. Not only does it bring to mind a classic scene from Three Amigos, but it also provides a tangible and real scare, which are a bit scarce in this movie. Sure, I’m afraid of the unknown, but since it can appear anywhere, I know there’s nothing I can do about it. On the other hand, water turning into sand is something upsetting that can seemingly be prevented or fixed. I’m also always a sucker for a scene where people look at a map and realize that they have been going in circles or are off the map entirely. Helplessness is a state that is usually reserved for the final moments of someone’s life in a horror movie; building a good chunk of the movie around it is still fairly unique.
The DVD has a few extras worth watching; all together they only run 30 minutes, and since the film is 6 minutes shorter than the DVD promises, you’ll likely have time to check them out. There is a 20 minute making of that details the issues that may arise when fiming with A. a low budget and B. in a foreign country. Then there is an interview with Myrick, and another one with DP Stephanie Martin. It’s rare to see a female DP, and even rarer to see a DP get their own piece on a DVD, so this is a welcome addition, especially when the film is well shot (love the look of the early morning dawn-lit scenes). And kudos to Martin - it’s cliché to mock the camerawork in BWP, so to come out of a film from the same director noting how well it was shot is more a compliment to her than Myrick. The trailer is also there, but watching it means suffering through more of Ball’s narration.
After Solstice and Believers, I had lost a lot of hope for Myrick (Sanchez has only released one film, the decent but uneven Altered; something called Seventh Moon is completed but still unreleased). But Alien Raiders, which he produced, turned out pretty damn good. And now with this, I have a feeling maybe he’s still got some juice in him after all. I still hope he and Sanchez work together someday, but at least his solo work is improving.
What say you?