The Endless (2017)
Written by Justin Benson
Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Justin and Aaron are brothers who escaped from a UFO death cult a decade ago. While they toil away as professional cleaners day to day, Aaron starts to wonder if life back with the cult would be better. They receive a videotape in the mail that appears to be a farewell message from one of the cult members. The two men finally decide to return to the rural campground where the cult operates from and finds none of them remember sending any tape and are just happy to see their old friends back. Strange phenomena begin to happen around the camp and the two men figure out that the very fabric of reality is breaking down around them.
I am a pretty big fan of the work of Benson & Moorhead, starting with their debut Resolution and was overjoyed with their follow-up Spring. The Endless is a movie I’m not sure how I feel about yet. In the third act, it becomes apparent that Resolution is required viewing before you see The Endless in a way that both delighted and ultimately confounded me. I am not quite sure if The Endless is just this duo revisiting the ideas of Resolution or if I was supposed to get something more from the film. When I concluded this story, I didn’t see anything more than what was communicated in Resolution.
I did enjoy how once we got to know the cult it didn’t play out in the cliche manner you would expect. There isn’t a cult. There’s a group of people who live out in the woods and appear to be stuck. So they have made the best of unfortunate circumstances and are perfecting a variety of crafts and skills. At one point Hal, who the film leads us to think is the leader of this group, comes out and honestly states that there is no leader here, he’s just a guy who talks a lot. And it doesn’t feel like a lie when we reflect on the absence of a power structure in this community.
Many other characters live in these woods, and the film eventually presents a good reason as to why you aren’t seeing them show up at the camp. But before the movie gets to that reveal, it spends a lot of time teasing us with some very ominous and compelling shots. The group gathers at a campfire and has a test where one person pulls on a rope that appears to be held by some unseen force in the sky. Justin thinks he has the trick figured out until something strange happens during his turn. A Polaroid photo shows up out of nowhere and hints at a buoy in the nearby lake that the brothers should investigate.
There’s a lot of intriguing ideas peppered all throughout The Endless, but I felt incredibly underwhelmed when it was all over. Having seen Resolution, I was left with the same themes and lessons and didn’t feel like much had been added. It’s still a smart movie by filmmakers who love dissecting and deconstructing the horror genre, but I never felt the weight of what I consider better horror like Hereditary. I finished that film with stunned silence, but The Endless closed with a shrug.