The Endless is a small indie movie centred on two brothers, Justin and Aaron, who are played by actors with the same first names (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead), who also directed the production. I’s a great set-up: they have escaped from a UFO death cult, and receive a mysterious videotape, which is the only thing about the film that remotely resembles David Lynch’s Lost Highway, no matter what the press release says. They are invited back to attend “the ascension.” Initially everyone seems friendly, but soon things start getting stranger and stranger, and reality breaks down.
Unfortunately, none of this happens in an interesting way.
It’s really difficult to make films about cults—so few are actually good unless you’re talking about films like Rosemary’s Baby or The Wicker Man, where the cult is part of a bigger horror or thriller story, or if it’s based on a true story, like The Master or Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (both of which are also led by great performances). All too often, as in this case, the stories are too convoluted and the ending just doesn’t solidify. There have been so many excellent documentaries made about cults that fiction filmmakers have a struggle if they want to beat them.
The film starts with a Lovecraft quote (“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”), but that angle is not quite delivered on. The plot is all over the show, but there still just isn’t enough story there to force it to work. The leads are also just not engaging actors, so they aren’t able to make me care about their fate and act like they are total “dudebros”.
So overall, while The Endless has a great concept and there are some interesting shots, it just never gets there. Some have written that it’s a “slow burner” of a film, but it’s not 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Thing, it’s more like a match that fizzles and flames out. The film was also obviously made on a shoestring budget, and you can tell that, not just because the actors are doubling as the writer (Benson) and directors.
It’s had amazing reviews, but I have to admit that I find them baffling. While it has some great ideas (and a really fantastic poster), it simply doesn’t meet expectations, especially in terms of visuals. Maybe with different actors it could have been much better—instead it is disappointing despite its initial promise. It reminded me a lot of the film Primer, but without that film’s intelligence.
The disc is loaded: there are commentaries, a making-of featurette, and you also get a previous film by the directors, Resolution. There are similar extras for this film so it’s sort of a two-film package (and the characters the leads play in The Endless also appear in Resolution).