The creative pairing of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have produced three feature films: Resolution, Spring, and now The Endless. I will admit that I have not seen their previous two films (although, they made a short for the anthological horror sequel V/H/S: Viral that I did not care for).
Without the context of their previous work, and not really knowing anything about The Endless prior to seeing it, I found the experience of the film to be genuinely unpredictable. To a point, at least.
With this, I will provide only the slightest of plot summaries. We are first introduced to brothers Justin and Aaron (played by Benson and Moorhead), who are still in recovery after escaping a cult—a “UFO death cult,” to be specific—10 years earlier.
We see them in deprogramming therapy, and it becomes immediately clear that Justin is a genuine skeptic when it comes to the cult. On the other hand, Aaron, who was younger when indoctrinated, is more suggestible.
In fact, he really wants to go back. Justin agrees to take him there for one day just so they can both get closure. We, as viewers with a basic understanding of how cults work, know that this is a terrible idea.
And the film toys with how bad of a decision this is. The dramatic irony comes in the form of commune’s de facto leader, Hal (Tate Ellington). Hal seems to play into Justin’s skepticism and Aaron’s suggestibility in ways that could rope both of them back in. As compelling as this interplay between characters is, the dramatic irony on clear display is itself hard to trust.
The way that the film plays with both the characters’ and the audience’s minds is what makes it so effective. There is a point where all the answers have been revealed and it feels like we’re waiting for the film to resolve itself, but everything up to this final act is unconventional and intriguing.
The major detracting feature of the film, aside from the visibly low budget that can be forgiven given the ambition of the production, is the tone. For the most part, the tone of the film is foreboding and uneasy. However, the script decides to take comic left turns at distinctly wrong times. The character of Aaron is drawn to have a lower intelligence than his brother, and certain conversations between them mete out this disparity. The humor that is intended from these conversations doesn’t fit into the construct of the setting.
The characters of the brothers don’t always make sense in this setting. For one, you have to buy into the idea that they would go back to the commune in the first place. Once you do that, the cliches that come with depictions of cults are refreshingly subverted. But as these subversions take place, and the world around the brothers is sent into a cosmic relief, their motivations and ultimate resolution are comically minuscule in comparison.
Otherwise, the world of The Endless is compelling. For the first hour or so, it is fascinating to follow the uncertainty. Given how easy it is for a cult narrative to become conventional and predictable, it is fun to not know exactly what is going on in this isolated commune. The revelation of the truth may not be as fun as the journey to it, but there is still a winding experience to enjoy.
The Endless: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)