It seems impossible to discuss The Endless without referencing Resolution, the first feature from the filmmaking duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. That movie is also a big part of what makes The Endless so captivating, a film which both borrows from and reaches beyond the pair’s 2012 debut. It’s not necessary to have seen Resolution to understand and enjoy The Endless, but it certainly makes for a fuller experience, especially if one recalls Moorhead and Benson’s cameos in the former film.
While The Endless isn’t a straight sequel to Resolution, it does loop back around to that film’s universe in a significant way. However, instead of cheapening Resolution or coming across like a sad imitation, it actually strengthens the previous movie, while still managing to succeed as a stand-alone entity.
The Endless is about an apocalyptic UFO cult that may or may not be an apocalyptic UFO cult. It’s also the epitome of a cult film, the kind of low-budget, genre exercise that might not appeal to the mainstream multiplex crowd, but is ideally suited for those who don’t like their movies to fit snugly inside of any one box.
Moorhead and Benson have cast themselves as the lead characters in this film, two brothers named Aaron and Justin, former members of that apocalyptic UFO cult. This self-reflexive gesture is both humorous and heartfelt. One the one hand, it speaks to their continued creative partnership and friendship; on the other, it feels like a sly acknowledgment of the way real life impacts reel life and vice versa. No matter how many films Moorhead and Benson make, they’ll always remain beholden to Resolution, their first taste of success.
It is much the same with Camp Arcadia, the fictional commune in which Aaron and Justin grew up. This is the place that Justin convinced Aaron was dangerous, the one which Aaron still feels lost without and wants to return to, no matter how many deprogramming sessions he attends at Justin’s request. Even though the brothers have left, their lives outside have been characterized by near-poverty, loneliness, and a distinct lack of purpose. This makes Aaron desperate to return to Camp Arcadia, especially after he receives a strange videotape in the mail featuring one of their former family members. That’s when Justin begrudgingly agrees to visit the camp for one night, and of course, that’s when things start to get weird.
The Endless is marked by a mixture of black comedy, creeping dread, and cosmic horror, all portrayed in a bleached-out color palette that is not only perfect for the film’s desert setting, but aesthetically consistent with the videotape which kick starts its narrative. It also feels appropriate for a movie which, at its core, addresses the banality of a life that’s not fully lived. Like all Moorhead and Benson films, there is a remarkably poignant message wrapped up in these peculiar layers, and it’s one that is stunning in both its simplicity and significance.
Even after The Endless ends, it doesn’t really, hence the title. Although there are many bizarre occurrences or nagging questions that don’t make sense until the movie finishes, the audience never does see the complete picture of the man (or monster) behind the curtain. This ensures that the mysteries of The Endless will continue to bewitch and befuddle, well after the credits have rolled.
The Endless is currently screening on the festival circuit. For a list of screenings, visit the film’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheEndlessFilm/. The film will see theatrical release on March 23, 2018 courtesy of Well Go USA.