(2008) Science Fiction (IFC) Jonas Ball, Matt Anderson, Jon Huertas, Michael C. Williams, Sam Hunter, Jeff Prewett, Kenny Taylor, Chems-Eddine Zinoune, Qzaibar Allal. Directed by Daniel Myrick
All is fair in love and war, but in war nothing is ever what it seems to be, particularly when the word “intelligence” is attached to it.
It is only months after 9-11 and the conflict in Afghanistan is just getting started. CIA agent Benjamin Keynes (Ball) is trying to find a cleric in the remote mountains of that country, ostensibly to get his blessings for the U.S. invasion to wipe out the Taliban. However, as Chief Warrant Officer Wally Tamer (Anderson) and his team of Sgt. Degetau (Huertas), Sgt. Trinoski (Williams), Sgt. Cole (Hunter), Sgt. Sadler (Prewett) and MSgt. Tanner (Taylor) discover, that was never their objective in the first place.
Apparently satellites have discovered a massive power surge in the mountains and the concern is that the Taliban has a super-weapon of some sort hidden away, and it’s their job to find it. With their native guide (Zinoune) leading the way they soon become hopelessly lost. That’s when the going gets strange.
Unexplainable noises and lights bedevil them. Phantom helicopters seem to be just over the next ridge but never appear. They are fired upon close by but when they arrive at the location that they were fired on from there’s no sign that there was anybody ever there. As ominous as these things are, things begin to get more dangerous – and more deadly. It soon becomes clear that Keynes knows far more than he’s telling them, and that they are up against an adversary that is beyond anything they have ever faced before.
Director Myrick was one of the guys responsible for The Blair Witch Project, and he brought along Williams who also starred in that movie. Like in his magnum opus, there is a low budget vibe here, a less-is-more style of filmmaking. Most of the tension is brought on by things off-camera, allowing the viewer’s imagination to take off with them.
He also utilizes a cast mainly of unknowns which has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, you’re never distracted by famous faces. To the bad, the acting isn’t always top notch, although it is solid for the most part.
The problem here is the same one faced by our actual soldiers in Afghanistan; mostly we’re faced with a lot of scenes of soldiers marching around, going nowhere punctuated by scenes of sudden and extreme violence. It can be effective in places, but at times it feels like we’ve marched a long damn way to get there and our feet are starting to get tired.
Ball not only is the lead but he handles the voiceover narration as well (that sound you hear are mainstream critics cringing). He is tasked with playing a guy who holds everything inside, from information to emotions which can make it difficult for audiences to latch onto him as their proxy. He does as much as anybody could do I suppose, but still he remains difficult to really get to know throughout the movie and that was a bit bothersome to me as a viewer – although if Myrick was trying to get the audience to feel as in the dark as the soldiers, he succeeded.
There are a few optical effects near the end and it does get a little bit trippy, but on the whole this is a solid, tension-inducing sci-fi thriller. It got a laughable one-screen one day release on which it made $95, so I imagine they are hoping to make back their investment either in the DVD release or the cable run (which I understand is on Showtime at the moment). It’s really not too bad, but it is rather flawed – so be forewarned, at least more than the poor slobs who marched out to Afghanistan to find a cleric were.
WHY RENT THIS: A solid if unspectacular sci-fi horror film set in the Afghanistan war is at least somewhat unique.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It is difficult to relate to the lead characters and despite some good action sequences, it’s mostly watching soldiers march in the desert.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of bad language, some violence and some disturbing visuals. I would feel okay with older teens watching this and maybe mature younger teens as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael C. Williams utters the same line in this movie (“Effing Savages”) as he does in Eduardo Sanchez’ 2006 horror movie Altered. Williams also starred in The Blair Witch Project which Myrick and Sanchez co-directed; whether or not the line of dialogue was an intentional link between the two films is unknown.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An interview with Myrick at the Tribeca Film Festival is on the disk.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $95 on an unreported production budget; I think it’s safe to say that it lost money on its theatrical run.
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10