The Endless (2017) "True horror lies in the unknown."
The Endless is the film a discerning horror fan should see this year.
Directed by: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Written by: Justin Benson
Starring :Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Emily Montague
First: if you have not seen The Endless yet, and want to see it, please go see it before reading this review. The less you know about it beforehand, the better. In this spirit I will offer a short and spoiler-free review of the film first before diving into it any further.
The Endless is the horror film you want to see this year. While it is not perfect, the indie proves that you can make amazing cinema even with a shoestring budget. Benson and Moorhead have created an existential horror that is built up from small details and ends up as a mind-bending feeling that lingers in the audience's mind for a long time. It did the rounds on the festival circuit in the late 2017 to early 2018 and is out now on Blu-Ray and on streaming services.
...And The Long of It
Still here? From here on I will discuss the themes and plot of this mindbending film in more detail. You have been warned.
The story of The Endless kickstarts when two brothers, Justin and Aaron (played by the directors themselves) receive a videotape from the UFO death cult they escaped from ten years ago, indicating that the cult did not commit mass suicide after all. The brothers live in near-poverty and work as cleaners, and the young brother, Justin, starts to think back to their life in the cult. He wants to visit the cult and Aaron reluctantly agrees to return for a day. They drive to the wilderness where the cult resides and find them healthy and happily living at their camp. No one seems to have aged at all.
From there the film builds the strangeness of the situation as well as the tension between the brothers. Aaron has always dominated their relationship after rescuing Justin from the cult ten years ago and it starts to look as if they would have been better off with the group, after all. Even if there are two moons in the sky due to a weird thermo-optical illusion.
The people at the camp spend their time concentrating on hobbies. One is extremely good at maths and is trying to create an equation that explains the strangeness of the campsite, another can make a baseball disappear into the air until it drops back to his hand minutes later. The group's evening meetings includes a tug-of-war with an invisible entity in the sky, which Aaron explains away as someone standing on a ladder in the darkness. Until it becomes abundantly clear that cannot be the case.
The Endless creates the mystery of the cult's camp and the tension between the brothers slowly and extremely effectively through small instances of high strangeness and reveals about the past that slowly start to form a bigger picture. Justin and Aaron Moorhead and Benson excel at this type of storytelling, as their previous features, 2012's Resolution and 2014's Spring have shown us. There are so many things that could undo the spell The Endless casts over the viewer but every part of the film holds up. The performances by Benson and Moorhead and the rest of the cast are superb, the characters and dialogue well fleshed out. The world, while strange, works logically and the story elements feel believable.
The score by Jimmy Lavalle is another important piece in the puzzle that makes The Endless such a compelling movie. It works in the way John Carpenter's best scores work, deepening the emotions and moods of the film but never distracting the viewer away from what is happening on the screen. The sound designer Yahel Dooley also deserves a nod. The sound complements the visual elements in a way most higher budget films can only dream about.
Why It Works So Well
Benson and Moorhead make slow, small reveals and leave much unanswered. They manage to tip-toe the line: on one hand the mystery is unraveled if they reveal too much, on the other the whole film ends up as a fuzzy mess that is impossible to get into. The Endless manages to stay on that line, at least most of the time. The beginning of the film is a bit slow and heavy with expositionary dialogue. Luckily everything picks up quickly after Justin and Aaron decide to go and visit the cult. These pacing issues along with some rushed dialogue in the third act are only nitpicks, not major problems for the whole.
The Endless opens with a Lovecraft citation that sets the mood. Normal and mundane is about to be thrown out of the window and true horror lies in the unknown. It is in that unknown where the film lives and thrives. And there it lingers, long after it is done.