The Endless (2018)

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As a fan, I’ve been fascinated with the films of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead since their 2012 debut feature RESOLUTION.  A lot of films you have seen before, but this duo’s work is truly special and difficult to summarize.  The pair’s M.O. of creating characters who feel like longtime friends from next door and then thrusting them into cerebrally confounding supernatural situations speaks specifically to my interests in Lovecraftian fiction, challenging belief systems, and high concept horror impossibly anchored to some semblance of reality.

As a critic, I appreciate that Benson and Moorhead’s style and subject matter has remained so tonally consistent.  In that regard, Benson and Moorhead have distinguished their unique fingerprint on genre cinema in the same way that you can say names such as Ti West, Ben Wheatley, or Mike Flanagan and immediately have a good grasp on the kind of experience that is in store.  Their latest, THE ENDLESS, is an enigma for most particularly if you missed their debut.  But it’s one of those intriguing puzzles that hooks you immediately and you can’t help but want to know how this all comes together.   I can’t say it’s entirely satisfying, but that’s also because I didn’t embrace its final moments the way others have.  Still, it’s worth recommending for a challenging experience to say the least. 

The film is all about secrets and cycles, gaining intrigue as an audience wonders just what makes the group that the brothers meet so different even from other communal folks who have escaped from the rat race. When Justin Smith (Justin Benson) and his kid brother Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) receive a videotape in the mail, we can’t help thinking that this will be one of those horror movies about screened events that warn or even imprison the viewers. This time the tape does not intimidate but rather gives the younger man the excuse to revisit the commune at Camp Arcadia whose members took them in ten years earlier when they were orphaned by a car crash. At that time Justin was barely able to convince Aaron to leave, to escape from what he calls a death cult, warning that they could be drinking the Kool Aid if they did not bounce.

THE ENDLESS is way, way out there, a 10-star movie on a five-star scale on a minuscule budget. “We knew we wanted to make a movie about nonconformity, about the dangers of both complacency and rebellion,” writer-director Benson is quoted as saying in the production notes. “If you wanted to wrap it into a single thought, it’s that you have to choose to take drastic, potentially dangerous action, in your life in order to break out of any cycle you find yourself stuck in. Reward only comes with risk, right? So, that’s the top-level theme, which is reflected in the big Sci-fi ideas that are revealed later in the film, one we won’t give away here but has to do with fighting against absolute control.”  The overall experience is perplexing but compelling the whole way through.  For horror fans, they may not get the scares they’re expecting in the traditional sense but for the curious and intellectual film buff, this is right up their alley.  Personally, I need to see it again to absorb its intricacies which is both good and bad.

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