The Endless Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Released by Well Go USA
Written by Justin Benson
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Theatrically released on April 6th, 2018
Justin Benson as Justin Smith
Aaron Moorhead as Aaron Smith
Callie Hernandez as Anna
Tate Ellington as Hal
I feel it’s important to state at the outset that, overall, I really like Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s work. Spring is on the whole a great indie horror-fantasy. Resolution, the duo’s previous horror-ish entry, is also satisfying despite falling into some of the pitfalls of indie film (smugness chief among these). Benson and Moorhead are smart and effective filmmakers, and they’re a pair to watch in the horror/fantasy subgenre.
The reason I feel compelled to note this at the beginning is because The Endless simply does not live up to its predecessors. It has little of the raw humor of Resolution (although it really should, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment), and none of the sense of wonder of Spring. It feels, ultimately, like a forced ending to a story we’d all forgotten about. (Which it is.)
The story is ostensibly simple: Aaron and Justin (played by the directors themselves) are brothers who live a pointless, monotonous life as janitors. Years ago they escaped from a bizarre cult based in the Southern California desert. Older brother Justin insists that their new life, for all its disappointments, is better than being part of a death-cult that castrates its male members . Aaron isn’t so sure, and when the brothers receive a strange video from Anna, a cult member they left behind, he talks Justin into returning to the commune where they once lived. Just to say “hi,” as you do with cults. I guess.
They find the cult/commune much as they remember it, with members living happy, fulfilling, healthy lives. Aaron wants to stay, but Justin remains suspicious and hostile. Something bizarre is definitely going on in the desert, where the cult members participate in a weird ritual tug-of-war called the “struggle” with an invisible entity out in the brush. Slowly Aaron comes more and more to believe that the cult/commune’s way of life is better than the brothers’ own piecemeal existence, while Justin believes something sinister is going on and tries with increasing urgency to talk his brother into leaving.
The ingredients are here for a compelling story, but they don’t hang together. The cult’s beliefs are too vague, the entity in the desert too nondescript, to impart anything like a sense of urgency, or even importance. Everything feels ad hoc, like it was pieced together during a Dungeons & Dragons game: temporal vortexes, ill-defined occult practices, and a supernatural entity whose intentions are never made clear fail to impart the mystique that seems to have been the film makers’ intent. Instead it feels confused and unfinished.
A potential high point comes when Justin encounters the characters from Resolution, who remain trapped in the cabin from that film. The Endless thus serves as a kind of sequel, or at least parallel story, to Resolution, and tries its best to explain the latter's supernatural elements. In fact, The Endless would have been better served as a true sequel, ending Mike and Chris’s story, rather than trying to tell the new and far less interesting story of Aaron and Justin.
As ever, Benson’s dialogue is solid, as is the cinematography: there’s a lot of (presumably Southern Californian) desert imagery that almost makes one feel like that corner of the world is worth visiting. The acting suffers in places, especially Benson and Moorhead themselves, who are perhaps better off behind the camera than in front of it. This could be forgiven, but the uninteresting, low-stakes, confusing plot really detracts from what could have been another great indie horror/fantasy film.