Two brothers pay a visit to the “UFO death cult” they left ten years earlier, and have their eyes opened in ways they could not have expected. Starring and directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, The Endless screams cult potential.
If I was to tell you The Endless is the new film by the guys who made Spring, would that mean anything to you? If it does, I bet you won’t need to finish reading this review but will go hunting for this spellbinding film straight away. If it doesn’t, you have a new talent to discover, shared between Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. Benson wrote and both of them directed three films together now; and in The Endless, they play the lead roles too.
Moorhead plays Aaron, and Benson plays Justin (yes), two brothers who are prompted to look back on a period in their lives they left behind them ten years ago. They look back and see different things, of course, as people do: Justin recalls taking them both out of a freaky cult back then; Aaron, in contrast, is nostalgic for the good food and contented people he remembers. And they are well drawn, believable brothers; just as much as the pair in From Dusk till Dawn, or last year’s Good Time. Justin is the older brother, and he is aware of the vulnerability Aaron has carried with him over the last decade, always on guard for when Justin might need protection. Aaron goes along with doing things the way his big brother wants them done. And in this way, they reinforce and meet each other’s needs.
Just like in Spring, the acting is very unhurried and naturalistic. Aaron tells Justin how unhappy he is with the life they’ve ended up with, and it’s just like any conversation between fed up mates. A parcel has arrived in the mail, containing a video of one of the residents from the cult (Aaron: “It wasn’t a cult, it was a commune!”), talking about going away for the ascension, and asking that no-one worries about them. This seems truly weird to Justin, but only serves to amplify Aaron’s nostalgia, and he asks if they can go visit. They go – Justin can see no other way of giving his brother lasting closure – and after several hours driving through spectacularly filmed landscapes, they arrive at Camp Arcadia.
The natural landscapes really are fabulous: rocky, rolling hillsides, then scrappy trees and desert. As in Spring, the wide open spaces are filmed somehow with a sense of peace and awe; and I could feel the brothers breathing out as they relished the change of environment from the city. The score is peaceful at this stage too. Then things change when they arrive at the Camp.
The people there are a variety of weirdly normal and simply slightly weird. They’re welcoming, laid back and not much different in age to Aaron and Justin (though some remember the brothers as kids). Again, the acting and dialogue are very natural and believable. So it is a series of slight shocks to the intellect when gradually The Endless shows us little clues that things aren’t right here, and then…
No. Unlike many other reviews, this one is not going to tell you much about what to expect from this film once it starts to do stuff (I’m even reluctant to tell you what stuff the film does). Just be prepared to stay switched on to notice details (not to mention interesting and beautiful images), especially as the difference between what’s weird and what isn’t is very subtle at first. You might have noticed I’ve even held back from saying what genre I would apply to The Endless; partly because genre labels mean different things to different people, but more specifically if I were to suggest the best fitting genre (or three) it might create expectations that would not fit. I’ve learned a lot in recent months about the issues that genre labels can raise: some films fit into two genres at once; some fit into two, depending on individual perspective; and others that defy labels. If you’ve come to this review because you’ve heard it’s “horror” or “sci-fi”, you may need to put aside your usual expectations.
Now that may not come as a surprise if you’ve seen Moorhead and Benson’s first film, Resolution. I’ve not mentioned Resolution until now, because I’ve not seen it myself, but I understand there are elements of Resolution in The Endless. Apparently they work as a great double bill (so much so that the UK special edition of The Endless DVD has both films in it), but can be viewed separately without any loss of story or enjoyment. They were both filmed in the same location, have some characters in common, and other things, but – you know – I’m not going to say what.
The Endless is a great film (and I was confident it would be, having adored the originality and spectacle of Spring), but it’s not perfect. The suspension of disbelief suffered a little during a couple of special effects towards the end. But that’s all: the writing, direction and acting are all superb; the cinematography and production damned impressive on an indie budget; and the score mirrors the mood and the – dare I say – mind f**k spot on. I could tell you what other titles it made me think of, but the last thing I want to do is put Derren Brown type expectations in your head of what to expect. So just rent it (if you’re not in one of the lucky cities where it’s shown at the cinema) and watch it. The Endless will keep you on your toes and start conversations. If you watch it on your own, I’ll happily chat about it with you.