THE ENDLESS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Stars: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Tate Ellington, Callie Hernandez, Lew Temple, James Jordan, Kira Powell, David Lawson jr.

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This low budget but intense and imaginative blend of sci-fi and horror is the third feature film from young auteurs Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead and is arguably the most assured and ambitious film to date. The Endless is a continuation of the cinematic universe they first explored in their debut feature Resolution in 2012, a film that was well received at the Tribeca Film Festival.

A decade ago, brothers Aaron and Justin (played by the filmmakers themselves) fled from a UFO cult located somewhere in a remote desert area of California. They briefly became a media sensation for their wild story, but now their lives have become a little humdrum and they are struggling to make ends meet.

Then they receive a mysterious video in the mail which reminds them of their time in the cult camp. Aaron is sick of the tedium and misses the sense of connection and camaraderie that he enjoyed in the camp. He is looking for something to give meaning to his empty life. Justin however still has vivid, horrible memories of his time there and is reluctant to return. But he agrees to accompany the more idealistic and optimistic Aaron for a brief visit and spend one night there so that he can find closure. The more sceptical Justin is also hoping to expose the insidious nature of Camp Arcadia.

But when they arrive at Camp Arcadia they find that the friendly residents don’t seem to have aged much at all. The camp’s charismatic leader and figure head Hal (Tate Ellington, from Remember Me, etc) welcomes them both to the camp, and explains that it has changed since they left. The camp residents have all become self-reliant, making their own beer and designing their own clothing. It also seems that they believe in an all-powerful deity that is watching over them. They are preparing for some mysterious end of the world event. Aaron and Justin are forced to reconsider their ideas about the cult and their beliefs. And quarrels between the brothers further adds to the tension.

There are multiple moons in the sky, which adds an ominous note to proceedings, strange rock pillars are scattered around the camp site, and there is something sinister in the lake. Both Aaron and Justin seem caught in a never-ending time loop from which it seems there is no escape.

The performances from the cast are all uniformly good. Ellington brings charm to his performance as Hal, the de facto leader of the camp, while Callie Hernandez (veteran of horror films having appeared in Alien Covenant and Blair Witch, etc) is good as Anna, and Lew Temple is a little creepy as Tim, a camp resident who brews beer for export.

The film explores themes of religion, free will, destiny, brotherhood, the unexplained. Both Benson and Moorhead have handled many of the filmmaking aspects themselves. Moorhead serves as cinematographer, and his warm, burnished colour palette adds to the unsettling mood. Benson and Moorhead capture a vaguely disturbing sense of isolation and existential dread, and a muted sense of horror and skin-crawling unease permeates the material. The film keeps audiences guessing as to the true nature of the camp and its residents, and they provide no easy answers. There are some great special effects which have been achieved largely in camera.

The Endless is a cerebral sci-fi film full of interesting ideas and is a well-crafted drama about a possible death cult. It has seemingly been inspired by the writings of H P Lovecraft. However, it is somewhat limited in scope because of the lack of budget and resources. The production values are minimalist, and the limited location work adds to the claustrophobic nature of the material.

★★★☆

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