The Endless is Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s follow up to 2014s unique body-horror romance Spring. The Endless made its Australian debut at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival, ahead of a limited Sydney, Melbourne and Perth release this month.
Benson and Moorhead also take on the leading roles, as Justin and Aaron respectively, two brothers who have escaped from a UFO cult and spent ten years trying to adjust to life outside the compound. They work cleaning jobs, struggle to make friends and Aaron, being too young to remember negative experiences with the cult, is resentful of how tough they have it in ‘normal’ society. Aaron longs for the familiarity and comfort of their former home. So when a mysterious video tape arrives from the cult, Justin relents under pressure and agrees to visit for one day. Upon arrival, they are immediately welcomed at Camp Arcadia and reunited with old friends. The cult subsists on the profits from their popular homebrew, and having obviously not committed mass suicide, as Justin had claimed, the simple country life of the cult begins to look a lot more appealing to Aaron than their hand-to-mouth existence back home. However, the longer the brothers stay at the compound, the more they start to notice strange and inexplicable events.
The Endless gets off to a blistering start with such a great premise at its disposal. You really can’t go wrong with weird cults, and UFO cults are particularly rich and surprisingly underrepresented within the genre. As an aside, repertory cinema programmers would probably get a pretty killer double bill out of pairing The Endless with Jeff Nichols’ excellent, yet similarly oblique, UFO cult picture Midnight Special.
The old HP Lovecraft reference gets bandied about in horror and sci-fi circles at the first glimpse of an alluring tentacle, or whenever a monstrous space deity gets a few kids together to wear cloaks and live in a commune, and honestly, nothing ever feels truly like Lovecraft does on the page. As far as The Endless goes, after opening with a Lovecraft quote, the reference is loose. But if you’re crossing these things off, then it does have a non-traditional deity on its books, as well as a bit of tinkering with the fabric of space/time. These elements aren’t exclusively the reserve of Mr Lovecraft of course, and what The Endless does with its horror building blocks is combine them very nicely with an equal number of science fiction building blocks, giving us a movie that owes as much of a debt to low-budget sci-fi mind benders, such as little-seen Aussie gem The Infinite Man, as it does to its horror roots.
On the acting front, Benson and Moorhead acquit themselves very well, coming across as amiable leads and believable as siblings. Their conflict over the head-versus-heart decision that caused them to flee the cult is their driving force. Once it becomes clear the cult members have not killed themselves, they begin to question the other reasons that caused them to leave, and consider whether there might not be some truth to the cult’s belief in a mysterious god. Tate Ellington and Alien: Covenant’s Callie Hernandez are also very good as cult members Hal and Anna.
The Endless doesn’t really put a foot wrong for the first half of the movie, but as events unfurl at the cult, we are led away from horror movie trappings and down a challenging sci-fi path. Reality becomes jumbled, time becomes fractured and meaningless. This second half of the movie, where the audience is required to keep rapt attention while the story cryptically unfolds, is where The Endless runs out of steam a little. The movie takes on a dream-like aspect (another cross on your Lovecraft bingo card), with looping pockets of time coming into play. It all gets a bit too confusing by this point, and is similar to Donnie Darko in the manner in which it presents the information without providing the means to fully understand it. It’s almost as if we get all the answers without knowing what the questions are. One can’t help but feel just a little more clarity would go a long way.
Nevertheless, despite its esoteric leanings, The Endless is nothing if not unique, and it’s hard to be too down on a movie that approaches everything in the right way – with good character work and an original, thought provoking story. If The Endless doesn’t quite line up all its ducks, it’s easy to appreciate what Moorhead and Benson are going for, because there’s still a real headscratcher of a sci-fi / horror movie here, and they don’t come along that often.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10