We’ve all seen your typical cult based movies. There are plenty of Wicker Man type films out there; just check out the smash hit Midsommer for a continuation of this ever watchable horror subgenre. But The Endless, starring Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, takes this well-recognised approach and spins it on its head. What if the cult, isn’t really a cult?
Brothers Justin and Aaron grew up in Camp Arcadia before Justin pulled them both out, saying it was a U.F.O death cult on the verge of mass suicide. 10 years later, stuck in dead-end cleaning jobs and living off ramen dinners, they receive a video from the camp proving everyone is still alive. Aaron, the younger of the two and full of fond memories about friends and good meals, persuades Justin to return.
So far, so ‘doom is coming in Act 3’. However, once the brothers reach Camp Arcadia the residents are nothing but friendly, albeit looking like they haven’t aged in the past 10 years. There are some unsettling details – like an ‘optical illusion’ double moon, strange bird behaviour, and some cryptic talk of things never-ending. But, for the most part, the idyllic setting revolves around making, selling, and drinking beer. Bliss, right?
What The Endless does so well is play with your preconceived notions of what is going to happen. De facto ‘non-leader’ Hal (Tate Errington) acknowledges how things appear (“yeah, that was rather cult-y, wasn’t it?”). The first half of the movie weaves in enough intrigue to make it clear that something is amiss but subtly diverts this away from the camp members themselves. A tug of war rope game has one end inexplicably levitating into the dark night sky, and Justin’s insistence that it is a camp member on a ladder can’t explain how no-one can win…
One criticism of The Endless is that it plays its hand rather hard in the second half. Without giving too much away it would be fair to say that the course of time is mucked about resulting in some very weary and annoyed outsiders. The fun of the build-up was the mystery, so such overt and matter of fact time loops occurring right in front of both the audience and Justin took away from this enjoyment.
Nonetheless, The Endless takes a strong idea and fills it with understated narrative flair and realistic characters. Benson and Moorehead (who between them also wrote the script, produced, and directed) focus the emotional hook on their brotherly relationship. Even before getting to the camp we see that Justin continually shuts down Aaron, despite good intentions. Aaron’s gradual eroding of trust in his brother and Justin’s frustration at a lack of control are exacerbated by the odd goings-on. It is their coming together that rounds off the movie, notwithstanding the appearance of three moons and an ominously entitled ‘ascension’ event.
The Endless is often funny, frequently mysterious, and cleverly subversive. It may be hampered by an overabundance of ‘show not tell’ in the latter half but even so Benson and Moorehead have crafted a fine movie that keeps you engaged from beginning to end. Just don’t look up, or you may not be able to look away.
Words by Michael Record