A horror flick that takes place in Afghanistan in November of 2001? Intriguing, to be sure, but I'll admit to being more than a little skeptical as I walked in to check out Daniel Myrick's The Objective. I was half-expecting some sort of run-of-the-mill occult thriller that got mixed with modern warfare ... just because it's a topical thing to do. Happily, those assumptions turned out to be completely wrong. Since it works much better as a bleak adventure flick and a very sweaty psychological thriller, it'd probably be inaccurate to label The Objective as an out-and-out horror flick -- but I enjoyed it anyway, which means that most of the other genre fans probably will too. Heck, how often do you get to check out a movie described as a wartime horror thriller sci-fi adventure drama?

Without spoiling anything, here's the gist: On the hunt for a contact who will direct him toward some "WMDs," CIA agent Ben Keynes has returned to Afghanistain after a ten-year absence, and it's there that he takes charge of a gung-ho, no-nonsense, bad-ass military unit. Keynes has a very shady assignment, but his new charges are on a need-to-know basis ... and suffice it to say that the CIA guy's secret assignment is, well, it's pretty frickin' weird. On the surface, though, Keynes and his new troop must head out into the staggeringly unforgiving desert, and it's there that their mission goes from mysterious to bad to a whole hell of a lot worse. Suffice to say that something not human is definitely involved, but our heroes will have to make it through some perfectly mortal enemies before discovering any secrets.

If The Objective stumbles just a bit in its final scenes (and trust me, it does), one can take solace in the fact that the first 75 minutes are really quite compelling. Fans of horror and (spoiler?) science-fiction flicks will certainly settle in for the "slow burn" delivery, while those who enjoy wartime dramas and the occasional firefight will be pleasantly surprised by what Myrick has cooked up here. Genre fans will remember Mr. Myrick as one of the Blair Witch co-directors, and while I (still!) really like that movie, the director has taken some serious leaps forward in the "visual" department. Even if you find The Objective to be little more than a sleeping pill, there's no denying that the arid desert landscape looks really beautiful -- and more than a little harsh, brutal, and disconcerting.

Bolstered by some really strong acting from a large handful of unknowns (lead actor Jonas Ball is a real find, as is Matt Anderson as the gruff-but-decent "boss" of the platoon; frankly I couldn't find a weak link among the small ensemble), a surprisingly smart screenplay (I often detest "feature-length narration," but it works pretty well here), and more than a few unexpected turns, The Objective is definitely not a rock 'em sock 'em sort of horror movie, but it's a strangely appealing thriller that earns a lot of points for trying something a little different. (Plus it's relatively short and fairly well-paced.) One can't help but wish the wrap-up had been just a bit more satisfying, but it's not exactly a lousy denouement, either. Points for trying something more thought-provoking than conventional, though. Warts and all, The Objective is a relatively unique, unexpectedly insightful, and oddly captivating genre concoction that proves you can find mysterious apparitions in literally every corner of the globe. Even the sunniest corners.