Endless, The (Tribeca 2017)
Starring Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple, James Jordan
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Within the horror genre, there are directors whose names immediately give a film a certain importance. Romero, Craven, Barker, Carpenter, etc… These directors release films that speak to our community, that understand not only what we’re looking for but also how to evolve our expectations, to challenge our preconceived notions, and to give us something truly special.
Enter Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the duo who brought us 2012’s Resolution and 2014’s Spring, both fantastic independent features that knew exactly how to take a “less is more” approach that still satisfied viewers. The latter was heavily praised by Guillermo del Toro, who stated, “…Spring is one of the best horror films of this decade. And the only Lovecraftian film that has blown me away.” Personally, I find myself agreeing with del Toro’s first statement. It’s a stunning piece of work that proves horror doesn’t have to be about death, violence, and/or mayhem. Rather, it can simply be about a situation and what people will do when placed therein. But I digress. Let us delve into The Endless, a film that continues Benson and Moorhead’s insistence that viewers should be challenged.
The plot of the film is rather basic. Justin and Aaron (played by the co-directors who chose to keep their names) are brothers who, 10 years ago, escaped from what Justin explains was a dangerous cult. In the time since they left, Aaron hasn’t really improved and Justin is getting tired of having to take care of his brother. One day, after receiving a tape from the cult, Aaron convinces Justin that they should go back, just for a day, to see if that will help him move on. However, as they make their way towards the compound, Justin notices some strange phenomena, such as circles of birds suddenly shifting from one place in the sky to another, that he can’t explain. Rather than point this out to Aaron, he instead elects to shrug it off as some odd natural occurrence.
Once Aaron and Justin enter the compound, a place known as Camp Arcadia, they are welcomed with embraces, offered comforting food and home-brewed Hefeweizen, and are invited to partake in all events with the rest of the people. While it’s hard to see how these people were as awful as Justin seemingly described them to be, there is still a tense air hovering throughout. Then, as the brothers stay longer, unexplainable things begin to happen, such as Justin seeing two moons in the night sky or Aaron seeing a mysterious watery reflection cut vertically across the horizon. With each passing moment, things become stranger and stranger until Justin snaps and tries to get Aaron to escape with him.
Now, I won’t go into any further detail because there are surprises in store for those who have seen Benson and Moorhead’s earlier films. What I will say is that the final product is a masterful offering of unearthly visuals, intense time travel theories, and clever suggestions of creatures too vast and strange to comprehend. It makes wonderful use of sound design and gives the audience precisely what they need and nothing more. Simply put, it’s absolutely magnificent.
What delighted me most about this film is that it doesn’t hold the viewer’s hand. Rather, it allows you to join Justin and Aaron on this journey but doesn’t wait for you to find comfort before pressing on. If these two aren’t on steady ground, why should you be? The film opens with the H.P. Lovecraft quote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” something they obviously took to heart. Therefore, if you’re hoping that the clip that shows the duo in a lake with a gigantic beast beneath their boat is a sign of things to come, prepare to be disappointed. However, just remember that quote and realize that whatever your own imagination can concoct will always be far more terrifying than any CGI creation.
The moment The Endless was over, I found myself desperately wanting to revisit Benson and Moorhead’s previous films so I could watch this film again, which is probably the highest praise I can give it. It’s deeply unsettling, fantastically eerie, and a phantasmagoria of surreal mystery.
Remember earlier when I mentioned several directors who have evolved the horror genre? I think it’s time we add Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead to that list.