Review: The Endless (2017/18)

endless

With all your might: Snowfort Pictures/Pfaff & Pfaff Productions

About half a decade ago, indie nobodies Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead hit the festival circuit with their first feature film RESOLUTION, and it did rather well. Critically. The problem was nobody saw this weird near-plotless sci-fi when it was released into the wild. Basically it was about a guy forcing his friend to go cold turkey while voyeuristic video tapes with possible cult connections keep turning up out of thin air. Now the good folks at Arrow Films have packaged Resolution together with the home release of Benson and Moorhead’s follow-up THE ENDLESS, and trust me you want to see both. It’s not essential for your understanding but the former sets up the latter and the latter enriches the former.

Not many escape fanatical death cults, fewer still go back to them voluntarily once they do. After living a normal life for many years, brothers Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) and Justin (Justin Benson) are drawn back to the strange entity-worshipping commune that made them to find very little has changed – not the people, not the place and certainly not the thing pulling the strings and lurking just beyond our field of vision…

The central mystery, which is kept intentionally vague is what is It and more importantly what does It want? As it’s so succinctly put by the cult leader (Tate Ellington) at one point, “It shows us what It sees. There’s a powerful elegance to that”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a powerful external threat use our innate trust of what we see with our own eyes as a weapon before. It’s a really sinister idea that lingers in the back of your mind. Even more scary is the society that has built itself a comfortable little life around It. The cult has no leaders (yeah, sure…) they drink beer, play music and make merry, but something you can’t quite put your finger on is always off.

Benson and Moorhead are stupidly talented. Co-directors and stars with Benson writing and Moorhead as cinematographer. I don’t even know how you’d keep track of the job at hand if you’re spinning so many hats, wearing so many plates…wait, what was my point again?

This is one of the most thought-provoking and surprising sci-fis in years. Both films, but especially The Endless are all about perception and time (particularly temporal distortions and time loops). It’s not got a massive budget, but what they have they use really well, with striking aerial photography to emphasise the brothers’ insignificance, isolation, and later, hopelessness and very sparing use of special effects elsewhere. As was proven in THE FORBIDDEN PLANET, having a mostly invisible monster can save you a lot of headaches on a technical level and leave it to the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps. This film world somehow always feels bigger and with more moving parts than we actually see on screen.

I really don’t want to go into any more plot specifics as this is one that’s best seen without preconceptions. I won’t say absolutely everything they try to do works but it’s never not  interesting. It’s meticulously crafted, endlessly inventive and discussing what it’s really all about could fuel many a social gathering over a jug of craft beer.

The standard move for any successful indie genre filmmaker seems to be to bigger studio projects but I don’t know whether Benson and Moorhead would be able to retain their distinctive voice if they followed suit. I’m not saying if they hopped aboard with Marvel, for instance, it wouldn’t yield anything worth watching, but it would be a battle to make it feel as unique. They’ve got another film in the works at the moment and whatever it turns out to be I’m sure it’ll be fascinating, as will their future careers, whatever path they follow. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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