Endless Review Justin Benson Aaron Moorhead stillYear: 2017
Director(s): Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer(s): Justin Benson
Region of Origin: US

Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 111 mins

Synopsis: 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. (Source)

These days, very few horror films care to break the mold, opting instead for a laundry list of tried and true conventions guaranteed to at least prod a few of its its dozing viewers. Following up their unclassifiable and beautifully Lovecraftian romance, Spring, directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead contribute an exception to the rule. With The Endless, the duo again tackle a high concept premise and wear their hearts on their sleeve rather than settling for a low bar. Kicking things off with with a direct Lovecraft quote, their latest mines our innate fear of the unknown, exploring how we can get lost within our own self-perceived inadequacy and apprehension. That such an idea is wrapped within a cult thriller that takes on a supernatural edge is the icing on the cake, resulting in another unique experience from Benson and Moorhead that’s bound to linger long beyond its end.

Years ago, Justin (Justin Benson) pulled his brother Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) out of a so-called UFO doomsday cult, hoping to tear it down by exposing it and those within it. In the present, the two still haven’t managed to reintegrate in to society. They barely scrape by as janitors, attend aimless deprogramming sessions and their relationship is tenuous at best. One day, they receive a strange message from a former companion in the cult, Anna (Callie Hernandez) that plays cryptically like a goodbye. Aaron immediately begins to reassess his life in the cult, questioning what it really was, and remembering that at least there, he felt loved and a part of something larger than himself. Aaron pleads with Justin to go back, and out of pity, the latter agrees – but just for one night. Upon arriving at the group’s camp grounds, Justin and Aaron are welcomed with open arms, and everyone seems as healthy and happy as ever. Have they been wrong about about their past this whole time? While Aaron instantly feels at home, Justin has a feeling he can’t shake. Soon enough, strange things begin to happen around the grounds, and the brothers are torn between what they can see, and what they can feel.

Without giving away too much, Benson and Moorhead’s film is a wonderfully shifting mystery full of eerie atmosphere and repressed feelings. At its core, the film deals with the idea of being paralyzed by an emotion or a feeling, which then dissects a brotherly bond full of regret, guilt and genuine love. As such, the film’s psychological terror comes from the relationship of its two brothers, exploring things they’re afraid to say as they’re faced with a decision that could send them on diverging paths. In terms of genre flourish, the film’s cathartic character work is challenged by a creepy cosmic backdrop that gets stranger and bigger by the minute. Lovecraft fans will love the ancient evil that is slowly teased, but keep in mind that film’s best creep outs come from what’s implied. Benson and Moorhead rely on some clever slight of hand to rise above obvious budget constraints and the film is better for it. There’s also a bit of unexpected humor that gains a foothold as the plot progresses, throwing things even further out of whack with a distinct tone and rich familial angst.

Endless Review Justin Benson Aaron MoorheadThe performances are mixed but don’t ruin the film. If there’s a slight weak point, it’s unfortunately its two leads. Benson and Moorhead aren’t terrible, but there are weightier moments where you wish they might’ve given the roles to other actors. At their best, however, the two help us to buy in to some of the film’s more absurd moments, possessing a genuine love and respect for each other that makes the stakes urgent. Rounding things out, Callie Hernandez’s Anna and Tate Ellington’s Hal add complexity to Justin and Aaron’s struggle, lending a subtle mixture of ease and menace. Late game additions James Jordan and Vinny Curran help out with humor, grounding things just as they start to tip towards the absurd.

Overall, The Endless is the type of film we don’t get enough of. It aims for the stars (possibly quite literally) and focuses on its characters and message as much as its high concept. Impressively, the film is also written, shot and directed cumulatively by Benson and Moorhead, with a distinct DIY vibe that attributes to a homegrown realism. This is definitely a gem worth seeking out, especially if you love its Lovecraftian aesthetic and are looking for something to subvert expectation.