Two brothers return to the cult they fled from years ago to discover that the group's beliefs may be more sane than they once thought.
While I know it’s only late April, I’ll go out on a limb (yes, this darn early in the year) and say that the new film from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson – The Endless – is the film to beat, come time to make my end-of-the-year list.
I’m going to immediately recommend that you see the film’s semi-prequel, the stunning and terrifying Resolution. I saw this many years ago (long before I was reviewing for the good folks of Horror Freak News), but rest assured, it would have received some seriously high, drool-worthy marks.
Don’t get me wrong, The Endless solidly stands on its own. It’s not a requirement to see Resolution first. But if you want a richer, more deeply meaningful screening experience, check out this 2012 gem first.
As for The Endless, we’re introduced to Justin and Aaron (writer/directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead; respectively), two brothers who have been through a lot, but they’ve been through it together. Almost a decade ago, older brother Justin pulled Aaron out of a potentially destructive cult situation which they’d been a part of since they were kids. Since their escape, they’ve barely been able to make ends meet, working for an apartment cleaning business. They’re both pretty miserable and friendless, but they’re grateful to have one another. Randomly, a videotape arrives with a message from their former cult-mates, and Justin decides that it’s time to return to the camp, to see if an unhappy Aaron can find some closure. They reunite with old friends, ask themselves questions about whether they should have left and start to build up a pile of clues about a violent, but unseen monster living in the woods – potentially something from another dimension.
I think that if Resolution could be described as terrifying and mysterious, The Endless could take it one step higher and be called “a high-brow, almost esoteric mind-bender”. That’s not to say that it’s for a limited audience, but there are definitely some out-there ideas – pulling inspirations from such varied films as Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar and Groundhog Day.
But despite the high-concept ideas presented, The Endless is a subtle, engaging and touching film about family and more specifically, brotherhood. I’ll be the first to say that I’m an automatic sucker for brother movies (American Flyers, Backdraft, last year’s Hell or High Water) and if it’s done right, I’m sold. It’s definitely done right here.
The relationship between Justin and Aaron is vividly drawn. Sibling issues are a real thing in everyday life, but the fact that Justin removed a young Aaron from all that he’d ever really known (even if it was a cult), and brought him to a live in what amounts to misery – ups the ante as far as brother vs. brother drama. There’s a brief dialogue exchange late in the film which truly hurts. In fact, it stings. Aaron throws a hurtful comment to Justin and you’ll actually flinch. It’s sold not only via the potent dialogue, but also in Benson’s silent reaction.
And speaking of performance, you’ll be pleased with the work of the two leads. How rare is it that the folks writing the piece, directing the piece and acting in the piece (as well as several other job titles on the film) manage to do everything with expertise and gusto? My assumption is that as partners in every aspect of the film, that they truly (like brothers – see how I did that?) have each other’s back. “Here, I’ll direct this scene, so you can really dig in and focus on your performance.” It’s a smart (and I’m certain organic) setup. Both Benson and Moorhead are authentic and bring oodles of sympathy to their characters. If I had to give a leg up, I’d give it to Benson – but frankly, he has the flashier role.
In a supporting role as Tim, you’ll find The Walking Dead’s Lew Temple. He doesn’t get much to do here, but I was impressed with his subtlety and sense of heft (as far as presence) in The Endless. In The Walking Dead as Axel, he always had a sort of goofy, hick quality. Here, he’s the strong, silent type and it’s unexpected.
And almost stealing the show is James Jordan as Shitty Carl. Carl is someone Justin meets out in the wilderness. It’s a manic performance – laced with violent outbursts, sick humor and surprising emotional breakdowns. Carl is key to the story’s progression, and helps to solidify what is actually going on in this strange forest.
If you’ve seen Resolution, you’ll also recognize several actors/characters from that story. No spoilers as to whom, but I was surprised at just how much crossover there actually was. Again – this means you might want to dive into Resolution first.
There were relatively few visual effects in Resolution, but there’s simply no shortage of warped effects in The Endless. They’re all done with care and never distract. They add mystery and dread to an already heavy piece. Of note (perhaps adding some clues to this pseudo-Lovecraftian adventure) is the appearance of duplicate (then triplicate) moons. Damn, it’s all so eerie!
There’s definitely more of a final explanation than there was in the film’s precursor, but you’re still able to make your own determinations as to what is lurking out there in the woods. It gives you enough to satisfy, but leaves plenty to your imagination.
There’s also an inherent humor in the film – verbal sparring between the brothers (I loved the bunk-bed conversation), so even in what is a “rumbling with dread” film as a whole, you’ll have multiple chances to laugh it off (if only for a brief moment before the next frightening and/or emotional wallop hits!)
Not everyone will love this very slow burn. Even I was questioning the length of the film at points. However, my final determination is that it needs this much time to set everything up, develop the relationships and build the tension as “it” (the thing in the woods) gets ever closer.
I get the feeling that this is a piece which will stick with me for a few days, as I try to decipher all of the lovely details, unanswered questions and ponder what else is out there… and will such things ever make themselves known?
Strong performances, solid direction and an eerie, almost inexplicable atmosphere (that’s a good thing) – pair up with a believable and heartfelt brother/brother relationship – which makes The Endless an automatic winner.
And I’ll shout that from the mysterious hilltops – on a loop if necessary.
The Endless is currently playing at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival – and that premiere date of April 21, 2017 is the only release presently listed. So keep your eyes out for further announcements, as this is something you won’t want to miss!
No trailer is currently available, but below you will find a short clip from the film!