Released Apr. 6, 2018
Unrated (‘R’ equivalent for violence and language)
Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Starring Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington
Brothers Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) are scraping a meager Raman-eating existence as housecleaners after having escaped from a suicide cult ten years earlier. One day, they receive a tape in the mail from their old ‘religious affiliation’, inviting them back to visit. Although Justin wants nothing to do with this, Aaron is miserable in the impoverished workaday life they lead, and convinces his older bro to oblige him with a return to the camp. As Justin had feared, they might not be able to escape a second time.
The Endless isn’t just a slowburn horror film – it’s a SLOW burn. What the brothers discover upon returning to the residence of their youths presents mystery after mystery without anything being resolved until everything comes together in a mindfuck of a third act. In the meanwhile, expect a couple of low-key starring performances and a lot of indie movie dialogue and quirky interactions.
For a solid 75 minutes, The Endless plays its cards very quietly and very close to its vest. It throws a lot of plot elements – one after the other, some obvious and some less so – and quite a few characters at you and is not really interested in holding your hand throughout. Much like the quandary that is presented to the protagonists – either you stay and find out or you leave. It’s worth staying and finding out. The story here is a rather fantastic mind-warping mystery. The great many details being presented are expertly woven together to present a fascinating conclusion, and that is ultimately what The Endless does best.
And while the direction is also compelling and worth a noteworthy mention, it’s somewhat puzzling why Benson & Moorhead – who were already serving as the co-directors, co-writers, co-producers, and co-editors – cast themselves in the starring roles. They do quite well when they alone are the focus – exuding a brotherly bond that is likely an extension of their real-life selves – yet they have a tendency to be eclipsed when sharing the screen with the other actors. It does serve to highlight some of the supporting characters’ interesting eccentricities, but contributes to the oddity of the proceedings, as their reactions to increasingly disturbing circumstances amount to shrugs, curious looks, and muted observations. Their nonchalence and lack of urgency can be frustrating and if it’s not the result of the auteurs’ acting limitations, it’s an odd approach that creates what is sometimes an awkward and off-putting tone. It’s not a deal-breaker of a problem, but it firmly makes The Endless a love-it-or-hate-it endeavor that doesn’t necessarily make the most of its spectacular premise.
As mentioned before, there’s quite a few characters here, and while a couple get somewhat lost in the shuffle, this is a pretty awesome supporting cast, with many making the most of limited screen time. Callie Hernandez, James Jordan, Kira Powell, Vinny Curran, and Emily Montague stand out in particular, even if some of them only had a single scene. Together, they all help to flesh out a world defined by truly bizarre and menacing circumstances in a way that the film’s two leads do not. Foreshadowing and subtle metaphor are also employed very nicely and altogether, the film does a good job of creating something that feels larger than the sum of its modest indie-movie parts. In a very unconventional way, it’s convincing in its suggestion that something massive and sinister is always looming just out of view with cryptic but terrible intentions. It may not be my ideal template for horror, but that success is certainly one to be recognized, and while Benson & Moorhead might want to consider spending less time in front of the camera, they do some pretty amazing work behind it. As long as you can handle the almost glacial pace and lack of overt horror elements in the first two-thirds, this comes as a pretty strong recommend.
The Endless gets a