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Tribeca ’17 Movie Review: “THE ENDLESS” messes with your mind in the best way

Monday, April 24, 2017 | Review

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

Starring Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead and Tate Ellington
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Written by Justin Benson
Snowfort Pictures

After exploring very strange love in their second feature SPRING, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead literally return to the territory of their enigmatic debut movie RESOLUTION with their latest project. THE ENDLESS is a similarly elliptical, fascinating viewing experience that blurs the boundaries between horror, science fiction and psychodrama.

Opening with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft stating that humankind’s greatest fear is that of the unknown, THE ENDLESS (a world premiere at the current Tribeca Film Festival) introduces us to two brothers—played by the filmmakers themselves—living in a recognizable mundane reality. It has been 10 years since Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) escaped a “UFO death cult” that took them in when they were kids, and the legacy of that experience has been a life bereft of opportunity or satisfaction. Aaron has been feeling the urge to return to the community and stability the cult seemed to offer, and that desire is exacerbated when they receive a tape from the group, inviting them to return. Justin, who effected their departure a decade back, doesn’t trust them, but is convinced to head back to Camp Arcadia for what is supposed to be a one-day visit.

When they arrive, cult leader Hal (Tate Ellington) and his followers have no qualms about welcoming back the past defectors, and all seems unthreatening at first as Justin and Aaron rejoin the group and their activities. There are hints of oddness from the start, though: None of Camp Arcadia’s residents seem to have aged much since they left, including Anna (BLAIR WITCH’s Callie Fernandez), who apparently took an inappropriate interest in young Aaron years back and whose attraction to him is now rekindled. Soon Aaron is convincing Justin to stay another day, then another, then wants to remain in the camp for good, even as it becomes increasingly evident that the laws of reality around the place are unsettlingly malleable.

Benson also scripted THE ENDLESS, Moorhead was the cinematographer and the duo edited with Michael Felker, and there’s an absorbing consistency of tone and texture to the movie even as the universe Justin and Aaron have entered becomes more and more random. An eerie score by Jimmy Lavalle and a series of clever visual transitions bond the movie as a second moon appears in the sky, some of the Arcadians begin behaving oddly, one of them appears to be dead and alive at the same time and tapes and photos are divulged from the air and water. They’re apparently sent by an omniscient presence referred to only as “it,” and there’s a great, chilling overhead shot suggesting the form this being might take were it to physically manifest.

The directing duo create an enveloping, idiosyncratic world in THE ENDLESS, and it’s one that intersects with that of RESOLUTION in the second half. Fans of the latter movie will be especially mind-tickled as one of its supporting characters turns up at Camp Arcadia, and then the brothers happen upon its key setting, which conveys an intriguing sense of shared universe even as it deepens THE ENDLESS’ mysteries. (It may be an inside joke that the RESOLUTION character played by Bill Oberst Jr., who seems to be in every other indie horror movie these days, isn’t home when Justin and Aaron go knocking on his RV door.)

Taking center stage in one of their own projects for the first time, Benson and Moorhead prove themselves as skilled at carrying a movie as actors as they are in their behind-the-scenes craftsmanship, and they’ve surrounded themselves with a solid ensemble that also includes James Jordan, Kira Powell, Shane Brady and Rob Zombie regular Lew Temple. They’ve got strong onscreen chemistry as brothers, and they’re right in tune as filmmakers as well, clearly knowing exactly what they’re doing while leaving THE ENDLESS open to plenty of audience interpretation. Its vagaries are stimulating rather than obtuse, though, and the final line, “You figure it out,” stands more as an invitation than a challenge.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.