Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Movie Review: The Endless

The Endless *** ½ / ****
Directed by: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
Written by: Justin Benson.
Starring: Justin Benson (Justin Smith), Aaron Moorhead (Aaron Smith), Callie Hernandez (Anna), Tate Ellington (Hal), Lew Temple (Tim), James Jordan (Shitty Carl), Shane Brady (Shane Williams), Kira Powell (Lizzy).
The Endless is yet another example of how smart sci fi doesn’t require a big budget or almost any special effects. This is the sci fi of ideas, of tone, of quietly mounting dread. The film is an exercise in psychological drama – as a pair of brother’s return to the cult that they escaped a decade earlier, hoping for some sense of closure – and finding anything but. Sure, this is a group full of people who are damaged, and if you cannot get away from them, you too will be damaged. But what if the damage is already done? What if the life outside of the cult is worse than the one inside – even if you know how bad things are?
The film was directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who also play the leads in the film. A decade ago, when they were teenagers, the older brother Justin escaped the cult, saving his younger brother Aaron at the same time. He told Aaron all sorts of weird things about the cult – the weirdest may well be that everyone was castrated. Still, a decade on and they are living lives that aren’t all that good – they are essentially cleaning houses, living in a small apartment with no real friends and certainly not any girlfriends. When they receive a video from a cult member – Anna (Callie Hernandez) it makes Aaron want to go back to the cult for closure. Justin says he doesn’t want to – that it isn’t a good idea – and yet he doesn’t put up much of a fight either. Part of him is curious.
As directors, Benson and Moorhead want to make the movie a surreal experience from beginning to end – while the car ride out to the compound contains some necessary, if dull, explanatory dialogue Benson and Moorhead start playing with the audience right there. What they lack in budget, they make up with clever uses of sound and music. They want you uneasy from the beginning, because things are going to get increasing weird when they get to the cult. What people are saying – and everyone seems to agree on – are clearly not true. All the cult members, who are supposed to be much older than Aaron and Justin look much younger than they are supposed to be. What they are saying to Aaron and Justin do not match their memories – they deny sending the video. This is a group that says they don’t have a leader, but that doesn’t appear to be true. There are certainly those who speak more, and those who exude authority. Things will get stranger, of course, when Justin wants to leave and Aaron doesn’t. The pair split up – and yet they don’t seem to go anywhere. They keep ending up where they started. They keep meeting people from outside the cult who do increasingly weird things.
I won’t spoil what happens in the movie – I’m not sure I could, but I won’t anyway. The film really is about the state of mind of these two brothers who are torn between the life they know – the life they are comfortable with – and getting out. They know they should get out – it’s not healthy to stay here. But what’s outside of the cult for them? They’ve seen that as well, and it wasn’t so great. Is it better to be happy in a delusion or unhappy in reality? And is it really a delusion.
Benson and Moorhead are fine filmmakers of these types of films, working on small budgets in order to have the freedom to get really weird. I missed their first film – Resolution (2012) – that some say The Endless is a kind of companion piece to, but I did see their follow-up – Spring – the most bizarre romantic/horror/monster film you can think of. That film didn’t entirely work for me, and I’m not entirely sure The Endless does either. But it shows such incredible intelligence and skill, gets such interesting, weird performances that still have the ring of truth to them, that I didn’t much care. These are filmmakers I will now follow just about anywhere – the journey is always worth it.

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