The Endless, a low-budget science fiction film from 2017, has been released on VOD and rental services this week. It’s very likely you haven’t heard of it, which makes it even easier to recommend that you watch it without knowing any details before continuing to read this article.
It’s fine, I’ll wait. I’ll keep your place for you right here, although I’ll also try to avoid spoilers below. If you want to go in completely blind, however, this is your last chance.
The movie centers on Justin and Aaron, two brothers who left a religious cult around 10 years ago and now live a dreary existence cleaning houses. One brother has no illusions about what they left behind. The other just remembers the good times. Wasn’t it nice to have home cooked meals and a community to look after you?
After receiving an ancient camcorder video in the mail that suggests the “UFO death cult” may have lived up to its status, the brothers decide to go back and visit. The final trip may give them some closure, or at least let them say goodbye to their old family. It’s one of those unquestionably horrible decisions that take place in movies just so we can see what happens.
When the brothers arrive, it does look like a nice way to live: the cultists all look healthy and happy, and the community makes money by brewing above average beer from barley they grow themselves. Everyone has a hobby, and no one seems to be in a rush to get anywhere. The food, as was pointed out earlier, is pretty good.
The Endless was made for what had to have been dozens of dollars, and that lack of resources may have been one of the film’s saving graces. The brothers are presented with things that hint that the rules here aren’t the same rules that exist everywhere else, and the indications of the uncanny are both simple and nightmarish.
One cultist is passable with card tricks, although his show becomes alarming when one of his tricks involves throwing a ball up in the air... only to have it not come down. One of the group’s rituals involves a game of tug-of-war with a rope that disappears into the darkness of the night sky. The older brother shrugs and says it’s just someone in the shadows standing on a ladder, until it becomes clear it’s not. The implications of what that means lay heavily over the scene.
It’s easy for films of this nature to slip into a kind of dream-logic where the rules shift and move and suddenly very little makes sense, but The Endless sticks to a a set of consistent rules. It’s a story about what it means to be comforted, and ultimately confined by, the routines that make up your life. What does it matter if anything can happen at any time, but nothing does? The idea of horror that you can, quite literally in this case, set your watch to has a definite appeal. And you get plenty of good beer and spend time with nice people before it does!
Creative team Justin Benson (who starred in, directed, wrote, produced and edited the film) and Aaron Moorhead (who merely starred in, co-directed and worked as the director of photography) have been cranking out genre work that stands far above its competition in the past few years, which is even more of an achievement during a time when it seems like every promising young director is snapped up to make a Marvel or Star Wars film.
The Endless intersects with the pair’s 2012 movie Resolution, and 2014’s romantic body horror (!!!) film Spring, another film that does a remarkable amount with very little. You don’t have to have seen those two movies to understand or enjoy this one, but if you haven’t you have a very pleasant evening or two of horror and science-fiction movies to catch up on.
The Endless begins with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft, which gives you at least some idea of the tone they’re going for, and it’s a tone they’re able to hit with remarkable consistency. Nothing about the film’s low-key streaming release this week indicates its ridiculously high quality — it has a 96 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes — and even the movie’s trailer is way schlockier than the elegant, full movie.
This is a team that’s one or two incredible releases from everyone else catching on, but you can watch The Endless now so you can say you were there first.