Blair Witch helmer searches for Afghan ghosts in The Objective

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

The Blair Witch Project director Daniel Myrick told SCI FI Wire that his new supernatural movie The Objective is set in the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but does not have a political agenda.

In the movie, which stars Jonas Ball and Blair Witch alumnus Michael C. Williams, a group of Special Ops reservists on a mission in Afghanistan find themselves in what is described as a "Bermuda Triangle of evil."

Following is an edited version of our exclusive interview with Myrick. The Objective debuts today on "IFC In Theaters" on demand and will open Feb. 6 in theaters in New York and March 13 in Los Angeles. (Possible spoilers ahead!)

So tell us how you came up with this story.

Myrick: Well, it started off with a lot of my time spent on the Web going through videos from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. There's a whole collection of military footage, ... battle scenes, things like that. And it was very compelling to watch and very spooky at the same time. It originally started off as just a single scene for a group of military guys at night, and they're shooting at something that's very hard to explain. It's arguably not just an insurgent or an enemy. It's something very ghost-like. That's something that's just a little kernel that started the whole ball rolling.

Years prior to that I'd always wanted to do a kind of horror or psychological thriller set in the desert, and this seemed to be pointing me in that direction. So over time I just kind of built a narrative around that scene that was in my head. And it just kind of developed into a CIA operative that was leading this group of guys into a sacred mountain of Afghanistan.

We you ever concerned about setting it in a 9/11 time period?

Myrick: Well, not really, because it isn't a political movie. My intention with the film was not to make any overt political statements or commentary, necessarily, on 9/11 or anything of that sort. My primary goal was to kind of create a spooky low-budget thriller that takes place in the desert. And I felt that, because I was inspired by this video from Afghanistan, it would be interesting to set it in a military framework. So I used the war in Afghanistan more as a backdrop and kind of an excuse to get these guys in the desert than anything else.

The trailer mentions an "ancient evil". Did you research and use the mythology of that area of the world or create it yourself?

Myrick: It's a hybrid. In fact, when we did Blair Witch, we kind of used bits and pieces of folklore and created this recipe of a mythology. I did the same thing with this. [Writer] Mark A. Patton and myself ... You know, there's a lot of mythology that surrounds the Khyber Pass. The whole story of the lone soldier that had been attacked, when they went in with 16,000 through the pass and only one survived. It's kind of based on true events.

There's a lot of things that have happened in Afghanistan throughout history. Alexander the Great; the Russians had gone there and got kicked out. It's become kind of legendary, and there's a lot of spirituality surrounding that area and the culture. So I kind of used that to sort of root this, ... which is more a product of Hindu culture in that area. And I tried to walk the line between it being a combination of spirituality as well as good old-fashioned UFO sightings and that sort of thing. So it's a little bit of truth in there and a little bit of mythology in various areas out there that we've thrown in to areas that we've created.

A lot of early reviews are calling this more of a psychological thriller than a horror film. How much will we actually see of this evil?

Myrick: Well, you see manifestations of it, and I, for better or worse, I like to allow the audience to determine what it is at the end of the day. Some people argued that the main character had this religious experience. Others argued that it was a UFO abduction, and still others mentioned that this was a CIA plot and this was some kind of intelligence weapon they were using.

There is no right or wrong answer to what this thing ultimately is, but I like preserving that mystery. So for me, it's just a matter of a group of individuals thinking that they're going after one thing and ultimately they find out that it's much more powerful and it's something that none of them are trained to deal with. It's kind of venturing into the unknown with too much confidence and hubris and ultimately realizing that you have to kind of respect what you're going up against.