UK Release Date: 29th June 2018
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Starring: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple, Kira Powell, James Jordan
Synopsis: A pair of brothers return to the compound of a cult they escaped from a decade previously when they receive a mysterious video.
The third film from directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead starts with a quote from HP Lovecraft about fear of the unknown. It’s appropriate then that the subsequent two hours marks a descent into a nightmare of knotty, complex weirdness that defies audience expectations at every turn. In doing so, the movie is occasionally a frustrating and impenetrable ride, but it’s one powered by memorable images and shocking revelations, en route to a finale that is presented as euphoric, but has more than its fair share of enigma lurking beneath the surface.
Brothers Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) escaped from Camp Arcadia – repeatedly referred to as a “UFO death cult” – a decade prior to the events of The Endless. Since then, though, they have struggled to make their lives work and so, when they receive a tape purporting to come from the cult that refers to an apocalyptic event, they decide to travel back to the remote commune in order to get a sense of closure. When they arrive, cult leader Hal (Tate Ellington) and his comrades seem curiously to have barely aged in the intervening years and Aaron immediately gets close to Anna (Callie Hernandez) as their time with the cult is constantly extended, with weird things happening every day.
There’s a natural ease to the relationship between Benson and Moorhead that serves to ground The Endless in believable characterisation. That’s useful given the puzzle box feel of the narrative, which could easily be off-putting if the characters weren’t so enjoyable to spend time with. The Endless sets out its stall early on as being a movie about brothers, built around the things that family members don’t feel they can say to each other, and so this relationship is crucial to the fact the film works.
The feel of weirdness is palpable from every scene set within the confines of Camp Arcadia, from the chilling fixed grin of the man at the gates to the way Ellington’s weirdo evangelist complains about being “so damn left-brained” as if it’s the most ordinary statement in the world. Justin and Aaron’s return to this bizarre environment both serves as an entry point for the audience and also puts the viewer one step behind, as the brothers have been here before. That amps up the horror and the tension, even before the bold narrative twist is unveiled, completely reshaping everything the audience has seen.
It’s a complex revelation and it leads to as much confusion as it does terror. The Endless is skilful, though, in using that narrative device to create a number of genuinely chilling images – a moment of explosive horror in a tent is nightmare fuel in every way. For as much as the twist leads to an unorthodox third act, it also feels slightly under-developed. Benson and Moorhead have been vocal about the ways in which the twist relates to their debut film Resolution – they told Vulture they are “doing a universe on a micro-budget” – and so there’s a sense that if, like me, you haven’t seen that movie, this is a party where you only know half of the people there. It’s reminiscent of M Night Shyamalan‘s distracting final flourish at the end of Split.
With that said, though, The Endless remains a brave and innovative piece of low-budget filmmaking. It has the strength to ask tough questions of its audience, while crediting them with intelligence to follow some complex hard sci-fi ideas in amongst the mystery and horror of the story. The innovation and tension doesn’t quite come together for the finale, which asks its brotherhood theme to do a disproportionate amount of heavy lifting, but there’s enough here to mark out Benson and Moorhead as genre filmmakers to watch.
Pop or Poop?
There’s plenty to appreciate about The Endless, which shows that you don’t need a budget to do ambitious, complex sci-fi cinema. The central performances are a lot of fun, helped by undeniable chemistry, and they allow the audience to become invested in this world before the intricate, compelling twist shakes everything up.
Ultimately, it’s easy to become frustrated by the lack of meat on the bones of that revelation, and the slightly under-cooked finale, but there’s an enigma to the conclusion that suggests there could be more to come.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.