Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Cast: Callie Hernandez, Emily Montague, Justin Benson
Watch The Endless online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Virgin Movies / eir Vision Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Read our interview with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson here.
If you saw romantic horror Spring, you’ll know that Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are a filmmaking duo worth watching. That’s still resoundingly the case with The Endless, a similarly high-concept sci-fi that once again grounds the otherworldly in the real.
Here, that’s the relationship between two brothers – the controlling Justin (Benson) and the aimless Aaron (Moorhead). They’re 30-something dead-enders, who are tired of the tedium of their day-to-day existence. But behind their mundane lives lies an unusual backstory: the duo were once members of a cult, before they escaped to reality, even getting a bit of attention in the process. What emerges is a fascinating take on cults and individuality, as Aaron begins to suspect that maybe, life was better in the strange, cut-off community – friends, food, a sense of purpose. What’s not to like?
And so the pair (one reluctantly, one optimistically) return to the world they were once a part of. The vibe is immediately off, from the group’s reclusive forest location to the disconcerting smiles of its perma-happy residents. They stay, more unwittingly than unwillingly, and end up caught up once more in the society’s routines, rituals and creepy traditions. Moorhead and Benson are masters of atmosphere on a small scale, and they foster a growing unease throughout these 110 eerie minutes, dropping unexplainable (and, crucially, unexplained) things in among the believable, boring details – one standout set piece involves the gang standing around a campfire pulling on a rope that ascends into the black night sky. Is there something on the other end? Are they merely imagining it? Is actually any difference between the two?
As things go round and round in a cycle of familiarity, our brothers are confronted with a closed circle of possibilities that echoes the reality they were trying to escape. Those central themes of conformity, independence and fate perhaps don’t feel quite as profound as the tauter, more heartfelt Spring, but Moorhead and Benson’s performances bring an engaging relationship to the heart of this mind-bending vortex – and it’s that bond that anchors the slow-burn drama, which escalates slowly, until the directors let loose with some spectacular visual effects. Even if you guess where The Endless is headed, there’s much to admire in a genre flick that dares to be this ambitious, and finds terror not in the unknown but in the haunting drudgery of the everyday known. In a universe of slipping certainty, the thrill of these filmmakers’ originality feels wondrously real.