the endless review

I could simply begin and end this review with one simple phrase: what are you waiting for? But let me explain. The Endless isn’t just terrific – it’s poised to be that breakout genre hit that It Follows and The Babadook were in past years. This isn’t just hype. The film is sharply written, smart and funny. It’s tense and uncertain at moments, but it’s not overtly scary, which actually works in its favor. There’s no pressure to deliver big scares and there’s no let down when it doesn’t and it allows the film to just be really good.

The film opens with an H.P. Lovecraft quote: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” This sets the stage for The Endless, but in truth, it also speaks to why some of horror’s best offerings have endured for so long. While audiences love the shocking and terrifying reveals, they can be a mixed-bag that translate into cheap jump scares, laughably bad monsters or special effects that lose their effectiveness over time. But the films that embrace the unknown, that encourage our minds to run wild in an atmosphere of terror and fear often make a lasting impact. The Endless definitely slots into this category of filmmaking.

The film follows two brothers, played by writer-director duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Justin and Aaron are former cult members who managed to escape what they call a “crazy UFO death cult” and transition back into traditional society. Early on, we get a sense of the daily routine that encompasses their new life of freedom. The brothers work as a cleaning crew, scrubbing recently vacated apartments and surviving on packets of stovetop ramen. They attend reprogramming sessions, where they discuss any difficulties they’re facing during their readjustment to society. And here we see a conflict between Justin, who is happy to have left the cult behind for his new, albeit bleak life, and Aaron, who is miserable and waxes nostalgically for his former life.

When a videotape arrives in the mail, it is an eerie calling card from their past. The brief clip is a dispatch from the campsite where their former cult lives and the woman on the tape, Anna (Callie Hernandez), reassures whomever is watching that they are happy and well and awaiting a mysterious event called “the Ascension.” At the camp, everything is blanketed in a wash of summery sweet sunshine contrasting with the bleak blue-gray of Justin and Aaron’s day to day lives. Worried about his brother’s well-being, Justin reluctantly agrees to return to the campsite for a brief visit, in the hopes that it will cheer Aaron up and that seeing the flaws in their former life might placate his nostalgia.

Upon their return, the brothers are treated amicably, receiving a warm welcome from the group’s leader Hal (Tate Ellington), who plies them with a hearty home cooked dinner and frothy mugs of home-brewed beer, one of the group’s main sources of income. Despite Justin’s apprehension, Aaron is drawn back into the life they have left behind, which, on the surface, appears to be a return to a simpler time. Clothing is handmade and patched together from thrift store finds, food and beer supplies are grown on the camp grounds and everyone appears to bring a particular skill to the group, enriching it and making life feel more fulfilled. To Aaron, and likely the audience, the “crazy UFO death cult” doesn’t seem so crazy after all. And then things start to get weird.

The brothers begin noticing strange behavior, subtle at first and then increasingly more odd and apparent, all around them. There is a heavily padlocked boat shed no one is allowed near, strange post-it messages being left around the campsite and the perplexing math equation in Hal’s cabin that he claims will give him the answer to a question he cannot divulge. And then messages, much like the video tape that lured them back in the first place, begin appearing, leading both brothers to believe that perhaps there is a supernatural secret to be unlocked at the campgrounds, one that could threaten to tear them apart.

Steadily building on a reputation for sharp, smart and through-provoking horror films, The Endless seems primed to launch Benson and Moorhead into the mainstream. Which is perhaps poetic for the duo, since as Moorhead explained, the film is built around their first film, which, according to them, no one saw. “When we were talking about what we wanted to do, we were talking about the fact that the mythology of our first movie, Resolution, had never really gone out of our heads and there was actually just a little bit more of a story to tell. And we were like, well we don’t really want to make a sequel to a movie that nobody saw and we don’t want to make a sequel as our third movie but there is still something there.”

“We didn’t know it but we were developing this movie for six years basically,” Benson adds. “We were constantly testing with audiences who hasn’t seen our first movie and luckily almost everyone walks way from it going like ‘I really enjoyed it, but I especially liked those guys Chris and Mike in that cabin’ and we’re like good news, there’s a whole movie about those guys!”

But The Endless cleverly subverts this nostalgia, by using it to comment on the power of time. Just as Aaron’s longing for his old cult life has a dangerous undertone to it, fans who recognize Chris and Mike will unearth a darker new truth to their story. To Benson and Moorhead’s credit, it is one that does not alienate new viewers but instead simply adds additional depth to a tightly woven script that stands on its own as much as part of their filmography.

As Moorhead further explains, “Something that just keeps coming up and up and up in all of our conversations with each other and all of our movies is the idea of the passage of time and you can look at it with Resolution and with Spring, about immortality and about repeating past mistakes and The Endless is sort of that idea. And so we have a pretty cohesive thesis on how we feel about how time moves through people and one of the saddest things in life is how time passes and how you can’t capture it, you can’t stop it and you can’t redo it.”

It is this deeper commentary, alongside Benson and Moorhead’s superb chemistry and quick wit, which is punctuated throughout the film, that makes The Endless so insanely watchable. It is a film that audiences will likely come back to for multiple viewings, to unpack new clues and to construct theories on the larger forces at play in the film, and one that will be talked about a lot in years to come.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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About the Author

Jamie Righetti is an author and freelance film critic from New York City. She loves horror movies, Keanu Reeves, BioShock and her Siberian Husky, Nugget.