Rented The Endless on Amazon last night and watched it with my 17-year-old, Lily. She fell asleep mid-movie. It does, in all fairness, have a long build and was just too slow for her, especially after her labors of a summer-break day which apparently are more strenuous than a school or workday. However, I really enjoyed it and I’m probably more directly seated in the intended audience. I think anyone who likes horror will like this movie – it’s a film that poses a lot of questions and answers most of them.
The setup: Two brothers that have been raised in a “UFO death cult” escaped about a decade ago and are struggling to make it in the outer world. The older brother, Justin (also the name of the IRL actor/director) very much wants to protect his younger sibling, Aaron (also the same name of the IRL actor/director) who only remembers the good things about the cult – the feelings of family, the wholesome food, singing and campfires. White dudes, of course, because most cults I know of are Caucasian as all get out.
The siblings receive a mysterious package in the mail of a legacy videotape, the kind you might find in a late 90s consumer video camera. The younger brother, after being reprimanded by his older sibling to buy a battery to replace their failing one in the car, buys instead a video camera. Of course, they watch it. It’s of a woman speaking of the “ascension” which Justin tells his younger brother is a suicide pact. He also tells Aaron that all the males there in the cult – Camp Arcadia – are castrated, very much like a knock-off Heavens Gate. The younger brother lobbies for them both to return to visit the cult and he agrees, reluctantly, because he wants to help his brother adapt to life outside and the visit might provide closure.
So much for the premise.
The scary: as far as horror goes, it isn’t really a movie full of frights. It poses questions, and the frisson between the questions, the deepening mystery, and whatever revelations might be in store provide much of the tension of the movie. It opens with a quote from Lovecraft, and Lovecraft is even mentioned in dialogue, but the movie doesn’t exist in the Lovecraftian mythos, as far as I can tell. Despite having written books in that space, I am no expert. I feel like this is a feature of The Endless, rather than a bug, and if they had tried to place it in the Lovecraft mythos, it would’ve shackled them to a lot of expectations and constraints. The Endless, however, does play with the same raw materials and themes of the best cosmic horror. The longer the movie plays, the more unsettling it becomes.
The acting and writing: The brothers, played by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (also the directors, the producers, the cinematographers, the writers, the video editors) do a fine job with their acting, as does the whole cast. The story has some delightfully creepy moments (especially regarding “the struggle”, a tug of war with an unseen force) yet the character motivations remain rooted in believability. There’s humor between the brothers and believable dialogue and actions by all of the cult members.
Going into the movie, I had not realized that I had seen and enjoyed all of the films that these directors/actors/editors/polymaths had produced. So, I guess I’m an expert on their body of work. They do this thing, that when it happened, really excited me.
So, you know Sting? Of The Police? The guy who went from rockstar to soft jazz to tantric sex to collaborator with Shaggy? That guy?
Back in The Police, Sting would do this thing where he’d reference a refrain or lyric of his earlier music, “It’s a big enough umbrella, but I’m always the one that’s getting wet” appears in multiple songs. Don’t judge me for knowing that. Anyway, in The Endless, Benson and Moorehead perform this same feat with one of their previous movies, Resolution. And it works flawlessly. Though you don’t have to have seen Resolution to understand the movie. Digression: I liked Resolution and Spring both very much and recommend you all to search them out. Resolution dovetailes with The Endless quite well. I think I saw them both on either Amazon Prime or Netflix.
The budget: This movie is a testament to what can be achieved with a small budget and limitations. I could probably list off the After Effects plugins used, but technically, The Endless is shot beautifully, and relies on its writing and characters for the chills rather than gore, or monsters, or spelling out for the viewer what they should be afraid of. By the ending, though, everything is revealed, and there’s some tight special effects. This movie is great because of its limitations and the vision of its creators.
The verdict: Fantastic movie, and I’ll watch pretty much anything Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead care to produce. If you’re a horror fan, or a fan of cosmic horror, The Endless will hit all your sweet spots. Highly recommended.