Eric’s Review: The Endless (2018)

Scary DVDs! Woo!

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Scariest Things Scary Meter 8 out of 25
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead

A Heady tale of brotherly bonds strained by the allure and menace of surviving a UFO death cult.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead co-direct and star in this languid horror/sci-fi tale of Justin and Aaron, two brothers who are survivors of a UFO Death cult.  They have been scraping by for the ten years after they managed to escape the cult, working as housecleaners, and barely able to keep their heads above water.  Their story was well publicized, and both have to go to counseling to de-program themselves from the trauma of being in that group.

Some Minor Plot Spoilers ahead!

A video is delivered to Aaron, the younger of the brothers, which shows that the group evidently did not kill themselves off in a suicidal ritual as Justin had been led to believe, and it is implied that this video is an invitation to come back.  Aaron still harbors warm feelings about being with them. He misses the fresh food and the kinship he had with the other members of the cult, as they were raised in the cult in their formative childhood years.  He pleads Justin to go with him back to the camp to see what the story is.  Justin is highly suspicious but relents with the promise of just going for one day and one night.

When the two of them arrive back in the camp, a number of the people they pass are behaving oddly, but the most remarkable thing is that the members of the camp don’t appear to have aged much over the past ten years.  The skeptic in Justin comes out, while Aaron latches on to the old community, feeling very much at home again.  Justin keeps his distance from the others in the community and on his runs around the camp, strange things appear out of nowhere, and other odd phenomena present themselves.  Strange totems are placed throughout the camp, whose purpose is initially unclear.  Meanwhile, Aaron finds himself attracted to Anna (Callie Hernandez) a young woman in the videotape they had received.  Apparently, the ten years in the “real world” was devoid of a love life, as any time the girls he got interested in found out about his past in a UFO death cult, they freaked out and ditched him.  And now this attractive young woman has been giving him the goo-goo eyes, and is sharing her hallucinogenic herbs with him.

The unofficial leader of the cult, Hal, does his best to impress upon Aaron and Justin the values of the group (They don’t consider themselves a cult) and though they never talk about UFO’s, there is a bit of talk about a higher being, and the struggle to impress this being, most demonstrably by a nifty rope trick.  Oh… and a second moon has appeared in the sky.  And apparently the presence of a third moon would trigger the ascension, and what Justin strongly means a suicide pact.

So, Justin decides that he wants to leave, but Aaron pleads for him to stay, and the bonds of the brotherly love are stretched to the limit by one brother being the skeptic, and the other desperate for community.  Justin continues to investigate the strange occurrences, and stumbles into a number of other non-cult locals, and is finding that a weird time loop seems to be in effect.  He is then convinced, that he and Aaron HAVE to leave, but the third moon is arriving, and the whole situation seems to feel more and more like a trap. Time is both running out and looping upon itself as Justin schemes for a way out of their predicament.

End Spoiler-ish Information!

This is a very ambitious movie, and the premise is fantastic.  However, I think that it gets a bit too smart for its own good at times, and the concepts get muddy.  It also doesn’t help that the audio track isn’t always clear, and dialogue is occasionally hard to follow.  The acting is fine throughout, and both the actor/director/writer Benson, and the actor/director/cinematographer Moorhead, provide us with likable protagonists, whose brotherly kinship is palpable.  I wasn’t a big fan of the desaturated look of the film.  I think it could have used the desaturated elements to the “before the camp” and “after the camp” scenes… as some of the big effects… the multiple moons, the ominous lake, and the odd bird and cloud formations suggest something more vibrant would have been warranted.  It felt a little flat. I think it’s all the more curious given the beautiful look of the movie poster.  Kudos to their art department for a wonderful (and colorful) poster.

The film is a little slow and methodical.  It reminds me of a twilight zone episode that has been stretched to a feature film duration.  The cult lacks real malevolence, and I think that is intentional.  You expect them to go full on creepy cult, and they never do.  The entity that threatens all the characters is an all-seeing all-knowing god-like spirit that likes to communicate through polaroids and videotape that appear out of thin air.  It is menacing, and there is a modestly scary chase scene involving this being, but overall, it’s not as scary as the Lovecraftian references would indicate.  It does resemble, in a loose way the Lovecraftian story “The Color out of Space”… but I would have appreciated the appearance of a tentacular elder god.  Just sayin! The Scariest Things likes us some cephalopod action! Granted, they made the movie for only $1 million, so they did the best with the budget they had.

The Endless arrived in Portland with a lot of good buzz in front of it.  I loved the premise.  I have praised another film on cults, The Sacrament, which is a depiction of the Jonestown massacre, and I also have been hooked on the local to Portland significance of the HBO show Wild Wild Country about the Baghwan Shri Rajneesh in Antelope Oregon, so this is a rich field to be plowed.  The Endless would probably most closely linked to the Heaven’s Gate cult that claimed 39 suicide victims in 1998. Remember the Hale-Bopp comet?  They thought they were taking a ride on that comet.  Who knows maybe they did. Personally, I would have liked a tighter edit, a more monstrous villain, and a bit more of an aggressive pace. But praise has to be given to the drama that was written. This very much felt like a family relationship drama with an injection of The Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone.  The movie is foreboding, and creepy, with the promise of something monstrous, that falls short in that regard.   There is real tension in the plot and the perception of which brother is more in the right shifts from moment to moment, adding to some of the dramatic delivery of the story.

This movie won’t be for all horror fans. It’s 1/3 Sci-fi, 1/3 Family Drama, and 1/3 Horror.  I think it delivers modestly on all fronts but as a jack-of-all-trades movie, it doesn’t excel at any one of those three (Perhaps the drama being the strongest element).  If you like serious, thinky, somber movies, you’ll probably like this one.  If you like movies like A Dark Song or In the Mouth Of Madness, this would be a good film for you.  If you like a high body count and splatter, this isn’t your kind of film.

The Endless is not rated (Probably PG-13), and is in limited release throughout the US.


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