Directed By: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead/2017
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Co-Directors. Writers. Actors. Editors. Producers. Friends, and basically brothers. These are all hats and titles worn by both Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead who deliver another mind-bending film called The Endless, to go with their previous efforts of Spring, and Resolution. Their films have been referred to in the past as “Lovecraft-ian” and its a term that they now embrace as they do press for this latest film.
“Lovecraft-ian” is an apt description as many themes from Lovecraft find their way into their work, such as having a mystery underlining the narrative that isn’t quite explained, but exists to drive things forward and create the terror that all humans face. According to the directors/writers of The Endless, it is those things you don’t understand and choose to fill in the gaps yourself. Lovecraft is quoted as saying that his tales are based on the fundamental premise that individual emotions and human law has no significance in comparison to the cosmos at large, and The Endless tries to capitalize on that. It also encompasses the use of cults and the individuals that are members of it as a means of revealing the larger cosmic order.
The Endless tells the tale of two brothers, Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorehead) Smith. Ten years prior, Justin had led Aaron out of what he deems a “UFO Death-cult”. Since that time, they have worked menial jobs, have attended counseling sessions aimed at continuing their “deprogramming” from the influence of the cult they lived among as children. Aaron, however, longs to return as his memory of the cult included good meals, family, a sense of belonging, and all the positive aspects. His current life, living according to Justin’s plan has been poor work, low wages, scarce food, and no prospects when it comes to women as they all seem to flee when they find out the brother’s past connection to a cult.
When a low budget videotape arrives to their apartment featuring a member of the cult that they know named Anna (Callie Hernandez-Alien: Covenant, La La Land), Aaron longs to return to see them again and have more closure so that he can be alright with the decision to leave. Justin agrees to go back for one day and one night if it will help Aaron get over the romanticized view he holds of this group.
Once they arrive, things look great on the outside. As their visit extends, they begin to learn more about the true nature of this place, called a “commune”, and some larger truths of the universe, while realizing that something else is out there controlling things, and manipulating their perceptions of reality.
While it is labeled a low-budget film, The Endless is engaging throughout and maximizes its budget in every area from cast, setting, story, and special effects. Aaron Moorehead has a background in effects and discusses how he only writes his needed effects into a script that will fit the budget they have, and also be an effect that he is able to accomplish with his particular skill set. Interestingly, this has been their approach to narrative as well, allowing the budget constraints to guide their creative bounds. This way, they say, they deliver a story that delivers something real and tangible in relation to what a viewer sees on screen instead of being endlessly creative and trying to force a meager budget to fit their broad vision. This leads to poor effects, which they believe can kill a film, or it produces an unrealized narrative which won’t satisfy the viewer when they only present a portion of their vision on screen. They are correct on both points and as a result, their latest film delivers in every area. Other independent film makers would do well to consider this approach.
Viewers will be able to enjoy this film, even without seeing their previous works such as Spring and Resolution. I am one who has not seen their previous films, but I’m learning that the characters of Justin and Aaron have appeared in Resolution, as UFO cult members incidentally, and The Endless uses a clever Easter Egg of this to connect the two, despite them being stand-alone films. The Endless also uses the idea of a “loop” to introduce 3 other characters from Resolution into the story of The Endless, namely Emily Montague (Fright Night-2011) as Jennifer Danube, Peter Cilella (Dementia, Driving While Black) as Michael Danube, and Vinny Curran (Resolution, Spring) as Chris Daniels. Producer David Lawson Jr. also reappears as the same character from Resolution, albeit with a slight change in the character’s descriptor.
The Endless will be receiving a limited theatrical run, including showings at The Alamo Drafthouse, and provide a fun, tense experience for the viewer. Though not a “scary” film like most people think of when they hear the label “horror”, its intensity is constructed around the unknown, allowing for each viewer to truly fill in the gaps between what they are seeing, and what they don’t fully understand, with their own experience, beliefs, opinions, and biases providing the foundation of their own unique “gap-filling” process. This creates a fun experience and a good film, and a longing to seek out these two directors earlier collaborations. This seeking-out won’t be just to see, what the directors classify as, a low-budget analog-styled shared universe that loosely connects their three films, but so that we can further explore the work of two directors who are clearly in control of their craft, and shared vision, and are delivering the results of this to the screen in compelling and entertaining ways.