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The Endless (2017)
Directed by:Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington
Rated: NR (Suggested R for Language, Violence and Some Disturbing Material)
Running Time: 1 h 51 m
TMM Score: 4.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Writing, Directing, Pacing, Atmosphere
WEAKNESSES: Climax, Special Effects
Two brothers return to a cult they left when they were teenagers, only to discover the cult might not be as crazy as they once seemed.
Justin Benson’s The Endless is about as good as a small budget, horror/sci fi/thriller film can be. It’s expertly written and almost perfectly executed; it’s incredibly atmospheric; frightening, disturbing, and sometimes surprisingly funny; it’s exquisitely paced; and best of all, though the rules of world are bizarre and strange, it all makes sense. Had it not been for one scene- quite literally one scene- this film would’ve received a perfect score from me.
UFO Death Cults
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Justin (Justin Benson, Spring) and Aaron Smith (Aaron Moorhead, Resolution) are brothers who were raised in a cult, but managed to escape when they were young. Since their escape, however, they’ve had trouble adjusting to regular lives, and they always feel as if they might have left something amazing behind. One day, they receive a video from Anna (Callie Hernandez, Alien Covenant), a member of the cult, letting them know not to worry if the ascension happens and they all go missing. Aaron, more than Justin, feels compelled to return to the cult to see what happens, and after a few days of debate and deliberation, Justin agrees to go with. As they arrive to the cult’s grounds and decide to stay for a few days, things go from strange to nightmarish.
For the most part I’m going to try to avoid spoilers in this review. This is a smart film; it doesn’t wait for you to catch up or hit you needlessly over the head with explanations or long-winded explanations. The world sort of just comes together bit by bit as the characters walk through it. As little secrets start to reveal themselves and little unexplainable abnormalities start to pop up, the characters grow justifiably wary, but never to the point where they want to flee. The world of the Endless is what gives it almost all of its tension, and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead crafted their world perfectly. Benson and Moorhead have worked as a team since their 2012 collaboration, Resolution (I have yet to see that film, but after watching this I’ll be sure to check it out- hopefully as part of this 31 Nights of Thrills Series). Since their first collaboration on Resolution, they’ve worked on a short, a segment of V/H/S Viral, and another film called Spring; all three of their features have received at least decent reviews, and if this film is any indication of their others, they’ll be a team to follow. This is the first time they’ve both starred as leads in their projects, however.
Justin Benson was the sole writer on this project, and it’s his writing that really makes this movie so special. Clearly, this film is a labor of love, as many small budget independent features are, and a lot of work went into the script. The unique writing style sets the tone for the entire film, and the tone itself is rather strange and unconventional. The main characters are brothers that are extremely close, and a lot of their dialogue is filled with silly brother banter; the dialogue feels genuine and lighthearted, and honestly there are lots of funny moments in this film. While Benson and Moorhead will never be leading actors in the next Marvel movie, their brotherly chemistry onscreen worked fine for me in this film. During the first act and the first half of the second act, the film is rather light, but there are moments that hint towards something being slightly off. Every person in the cult seems to have one thing that they are really good at, and they all spend most of their free time working on whatever profession they’ve chosen. The characters have a sort of timeless quality to them as well; the brothers left years ago, but all of the people seem to have not aged at all. Strangest of all is the cult’s leader, Hal (Tate Ellington, Straight Outta Compton), who claims to have no answers for why the world around them is the way it is. There are other characters and storylines that bubble up around this time, most of which make the atmosphere more foreboding. As the film moves forward, the jokes that the brothers make seem less and less funny, and the world feels more and more unnatural.
A lot of the tension in this film comes from the characters’ locations, where they are in relationship to each other and the camp, and not knowing, and once again that speaks to the world that Benson and Moorhead have crafted so brilliantly. The moments of terror in this film are not overly graphic or violent, they’re situational moments that would never occur in any other movie. In order to fully appreciate why things are tense or scary, you have to be paying attention and understand the rules of the world.
My only issue with this film (seriously, the only issue) is the blocking and the CGI during the climax of the film. I know this is an independent film, and there are obvious budgetary constraints that come along with any smaller productions, but I wish that they’d have had a little bit bigger of a budget, just to polish the end scene. The rest of the film is darn near perfect as a sci-fi/ fantasy/ horror/ thriller, but the final scene, sadly, looks pretty bad.
I really don’t want to give much away for this movie. I think it’s a film that people should absolutely see, and it’s got the potential to become a real cult classic (pun intended). Benson and Moorhead are filmmakers that I believe have a lot of potential, and hopefully we’ll see some more great stuff from them.
EDIT: I watched Resolution and I cannot recommend that enough. If you can, watch Resolution before The Endless. You don't need to see it first, but it adds another brilliant layer to the film. I also know it's weird to have an edit the day this review posts, but I wrote this in July. Lots of movies can be seen in three months.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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