NEW YORK -- Filmmaker Daniel Myrick has one request for any would-be distributor of his new movie, "The Objective," which premiered Thursday night at the Tribeca Film Festival: Whatever you do, don't put it out there as a fright fest.
But given that Myrick directed 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" -- that chilling seminal journey into the Maryland woods -- it is only natural to want to position his new thriller as a spook-master's latest joy ride.
Except that Myrick never wanted to get tagged as just a horror-movie director, and with "The Objective," he proves he can do more. His movie is set in Afghanistan in the wake of Sept. 11 and involves a trek into the mountains to find an anti-Taliban spiritual leader and a supposed loose nuke that might have fallen into terrorist hands. It's a journey that soon turns more nebulous for the special ops forces under the command of the CIA's Ben Keynes (Jonas Ball).
Like the would-be auteur with her camera in the inventively shot "Blair Witch," Keynes filters his reality through a lens -- in this case an infrared camera beaming images back to CIA headquarters. "I had always wanted to do a thriller in the desert," said Myrick.
He shot "The Objective" a year ago in Morroco, on a budget he said he felt comfortable with (around $5 million), after he optioned the project to the L.A.-based JAZ Films (along with Mark Patton, his other co-screenwriter is Wesley Clark Jr., son of the retired general, who was familiar with the terrain of the action). During shooting, his no-name actors slept in a military tent, Myrick said.
His aim with "The Objective" was to make a "good-old fashioned psychological thriller, and all the allegory is laced underneath it," Myrick said.
Still, given the way the subject matter dovetails with the recent disappointing box-office performance of films either literally or tangentially related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "The Objective" will be a tougher festival sell than "Blair Witch," which was an overnight sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, made for $35,000 and sold to Artisan Entertainment in the early morning hours after it premiered (it went on to earn $140 million at the box office).
Myrick, who has worked on other small indie film projects since "Blair Witch," doesn't dispute that. Nor that the film might have more potential as an art-house movie than as a blockbuster. Mostly, he hopes, "The Objective," if sold, will fall into the hands of someone who will position it as more of a provoking thriller than bone-chilling horror. If "Blair Witch," co-written and co-directed by Eduardo Sanchez, put him on the map a decade ago, Myrick knows "The Objective" is a different kind of sell.
"I've been around the block a few times, so I kind of know the reality a little bit more than I did back then," he said.