the endless interview

The Endless is Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s third movie. They star as Justin and Aaron Smith, two brothers returning to Camp Arcadia, the cult from which they escaped, to help Aaron get some closure. One there, they find themselves encountering a series of endless time loops.

The film has earned raves at Tribeca, Fantastic Fest and other prestigious film festivals, including one from /Film. Their previous films Spring and Resolution did well on the festival circuits as well. Moorhead and Benson spoke with /Film in Los Angeles about the themes of The Endless, including some spoilers we saved for the very bottom. The Endless opens in New York today and Los Angeles on April 13 before expanding further.

Aaron’s character is looking for things to remind him of Camp Arcadia, even though it was a bad experience he got out of. I get this. We’re connected on Facebook so you can see I’ve been obsessed with old movie theaters. Resolution was all about nostalgia for old video formats. Is there a positive to connecting with our past, or are we just indulging in unhealthy obsessions.

Moorhead: Man, that’s a really good question. I love it.

Benson: I’m not personally a fan of nostalgia in the arts, whether it be film or music or anything. People should at least do their best to push forward. We all stand on the shoulders of giants but you can still try something new and hopefully use these things that inspire you to be bold, to try something new. I’m not personally huge on nostalgia but I don’t think that every single way you connect with your past is a negative thing. I don’t think that going back is ever necessarily a negative thing.

Moorhead: I think nostalgia is a disease that’s killing us. I really do. Not just in art but in the world. I think it’s really terrible because nostalgia gilds things that were actually very human and had rough edges. So we view everything through this rose colored glass. That said, that doesn’t mean we don’t learn from our mistakes. We don’t have to remember things fondly. For example, I have a friend who buys really old photograph, scans them and puts them on Instagram. That’s not nostalgia to me because I’ve never seen these photos before of these time periods so it’s actually a discovery for me. I think you’re allowed to miss things, but I think if people are trying to push the future towards the past, I think that’s almost always a mistake.

Benson: I’ll never be able to know for sure, but I bet the 1950s weren’t better than today at all. But, that said, if you said, “Hey Justin, would you rather go to the brand new movie theater at the mall, or do you want to go to one of those really cool old movie theaters downtown to go see a movie?” I’m like, “I want to go to the cool old movie theater downtown.” I can’t deny that.

Moorhead: Is there a difference between that and nostalgia? There might be, I just don’t know what it is. It’s not a vernacular one.

Is it a difference between preserving history so it doesn’t get forgotten, and actually trying to go back to it?

Moorhead: That’s I think what it is. There can be an appreciation of history without me saying, “You know what this film needs to be? It needs to be shot on 35mm three perf and projected there” at extreme cost and difficulty to everybody purely because of some idea of what it used to be.

I don’t feel like I’m doing something wrong by looking for records of old theaters or going back to the one I worked at and documenting it while I’m still there. But I also don’t know what I hope to accomplish with this.

Moorhead: Does it give you a good feeling?


Moorhead: There’s that. I just think as long as Spotify isn’t replaced with record stores, I’m okay with that. Don’t make the past the future because of nostalgia. Don’t say, “Wow, vinyl’s better than Spotify because it’s older.” Same kind of thing where I think it’s okay to appreciate.

Interesting example because I’m also using Spotfiy for nostalgic purposes. I’m making playlists of both movie scores and soundtrack songs from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Plus, I also discover lots of music I never listened to in the ‘90s because it’s just all there on Spotify. 

Moorhead: I get little blasts from high school that pop up on my Spotify every once in a while.

The old camcorder is still a vital part of The Endless. Can you not shake your fondness or obsession with old video?

Moorhead: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a good reason why VHS filters are starting to come out on iPhone. We’ve definitely entered into the uncanny valley of creepiness when it comes to the formats that we grew up with. I think old media, we enjoy it but not as a nostalgic thing but more as a way to generate unease. Have you every heard this observation where if you watch a game show from the 1950s, everyone that was laughing in the laugh track is now dead? It’s a freaky idea. You’re hearing the laughs of dead people. No matter what, it’s creepy.

Benson: The three primary ways to define a ghost are an entity that’s conscious of itself and aware, and is there to probably seek something from you. That’s one and maybe another one is an evil entity of someone that never was but it’s just here and it’s apparition-like and it’s there to do mean stuff and very vicious. But then there’s this other one where it’s like maybe a ghost is just an imprint in time, something that’s not conscious at all. Something happened, it left an imprint and you just see it like you see film being projected. So in that sense, old media is basically like watching a real ghost.

Moorhead: Film is probably the closest art we have to real life, besides maybe interactive theater. If you’re recording something on film, it’s why they used to think it was stealing your soul. It’s as close as we’re going to get to something like immortality for now. Especially a movie that’s about immortality, it makes sense that something about an imprint of yourself in time, freezing it in time.

Did you add the bad tracking marks in post?

Moorhead: Oh yeah. We did shoot it on Hi-8. We shot it on an old ass HI-8 camera and the people at the camp we were staying at cleaned up and for whatever reason just threw away the tape. It was in our editing room and they just had all their VHS tapes and saw ours and just threw it away.

Benson: We had shot that video simultaneously with our primary camera, REDcam so we just ended up using that footage and degrading it. Someday, someone’s going to find the tape and find a Hi-8 deck, they’re going to find basically a UFO death cult member talking about their suicide.

Moorhead: Over and over in different ways.

Benson: Like five takes.

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