Two things I enjoy when it comes to modern horror content are intention and cults, so luckily for me they arrive at a cohesive medium through Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless. The third time’s a charm when it comes to the duo’s 2017 film, following their dark romance, Spring, and meta-horror debut, Resolution. Their work continuously bends reality with the supernatural in a seamless fashion and through deliberate expression. With Benson’s hand on the pen and Moorhead’s eye behind the camera, the two conjure up sharp scenes with cunning control. Peppered with light humor, moving sentiment, and intense moments of lingering depth, The Endless is a timeless tale of family trauma and time travel.
Initiating a simple, yet bizarre chain of events, The Endless begins when “Two brothers receive a cryptic video message inspiring them to revisit the UFO death cult they escaped a decade earlier. Hoping to find the closure that they couldn’t find as young men, they’re forced to reconsider the cult’s beliefs when confronted with unexplainable phenomena surrounding the camp. As the members prepare for the coming of a mysterious event, the brothers race to unravel the seemingly impossible truth before their lives become permanently entangled with the cult“.
“…a timeless tale of family trauma and time travel […] Every scene is staged and performed with the highest degree of cinematic craft.”
I have seen The Endless a few times before, enjoying each experience like it was the first. However, after circling back to it this month, I found myself paying very close attention to all of the incredible detail related to its multiple meanings and felt overwhelmed in the greatest way possible. Every scene is staged and performed with the highest degree of cinematic craft. The significance of time shimmers within every line and visual, with some screaming loudly while others bear a more subtle presence.
“Do You Mind If We Get A Little Culty In Here?”
Groupthink is a powerful force assembled by relentless momentum, kind of like time. For some it is a conforming comfort, for others it is an enigmatic danger. Cults have taken a prominent spot in horror as worship towards movements beyond our knowledge and control is often written off as odd behavior. The commune, Camp Arcadia, that triggers and shapes the narrative of The Endless, is a more friendly portrayal of uniformed groups of believers. Though they praise a strange forest deity and a (possibly deadly) passage of “ascension”, the camp participants are all strangers who have come together to cope and survive.
Like real cult-type gatherings, many of the members find solitude and closure in something bigger than they are. They are charming but suspicious. Of the two brothers, Aaron (Aaron Moorehead) is the one drawn to Camp Arcadia’s promise of solace and purpose, while Justin (Justin Benson) is the one who fears their end-game. The push and pull, the struggle, is an important link in the chain of events as it prompts viewers to decide for themselves: What are their true intentions? What are they capable of?
“An intriguing character study on the diverse effects displaced individuals face when they land on uncommon ground… and time.”
One of the things I really love about The Endless is how the cult narrative begins with the outcome of escaping one. So many stories go through a more linear path from start to finish with initiation and fulfillment, but the introduction to our characters follows the two after they’ve tried to adapt to a more formal society. Their return to Camp Arcadia immediately sets a mood of uneasiness that remains palpable throughout the film.
The members are happy, healthy, and live off the land well enough as the brothers have trouble acclimating themselves to a more foreign culture. Energy pulses from the oneness of the group and offers an inviting, yet untrustworthy hand as most death cults tend to do. The isolation of the wilderness provides an intimate tone to the film as an earthy palette dignifies the visuals and echoes of time. Like all who search for answers, within their commune as well as from the outside, Justin and Aaron find themselves at a crossroads in the path of their destinations. The Endless is an intriguing character study on the diverse effects displaced individuals face when they land on uncommon ground… and time.
“We’re Always Here”
The Endless begins with two important quotes that relate directly to the major themes explored throughout the film (and to two of the three major points of my recommendation, coincidently perhaps?). The first is from the otherworldly master himself, H.P. Lovecraft, on what we fear most: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the Unknown”.
Benson and Moorhead present a volatile villain before their characters and it punishes with time. Being one of the most terrifying unknown elements of our world, defined only by man’s concept of minutes and hours, time plays an engaging part in The Endless’ evolving dread. Moments begin to loop, resetting infinite pods of time, setting off this magnificent climatic experience that cycles tremendous will and intention.
‘Benson and Moorhead present a volatile villain before their characters and it punishes with time.”
Each of the characters is trying to escape the moment, whether it be history literally repeating itself or the camp members retreating from society, and vice versa. Creative signs, hints, metaphors, and symbols are worked throughout the narrative to play on the manipulative loops of time effectively blending the past and future. The notions of infinity and lapses of time build an unstoppable tension that practices severe patience. Constant allusions to circles and revolutions build mystery and cover The Endless with a significant sense of longing from beginning to end. The use of time symbolism, visually and verbally, in each progressive event of the film is so unbelievably detailed that I dare any observant viewer to attempt keeping track.
The play on time movement and travel is not lost on the direction and cinematography. Slightly warping camera angles and points-of-view suggests a unique atmosphere. The brilliant special effects never draw attention from the alternative matters at hand and only add to the realistic nature of altered vision and framing. The Endless incorporates beautiful aerial shots, slow-motion cuts, and gliding perception to bring a believable sense of time loops and candid moments of déjà vu to life. Benson drives nuance home through his sound writing, while Moorhead appeals to the cinematic senses through the lens. Together, they’re an endless source of true quality filmmaking.
“You Mess Up Everything”
While Benson and Moorhead thrive in unison as storytellers, they equally serve up genuine performances as two brothers coping with existence in The Endless. Thus bringing us to the second introductory quote stated by, ironically, Unknown: “Friends tell each other how they feel with relative frequency. Siblings wait for a more convenient time, like their deathbeds”. Justin and Aaron are well-written characters running through a gradation of emotions following their escape from Camp Arcadia and subsequent return. Their personalities are at odds, but the two brothers ultimately fight symmetrical battles against the trauma they endure. Justin has trouble applying responsibility and embracing the guilt behind his choices, while Aaron lives under a cycle of control and indecision. Their authentic connection drives emotional effect and smoothy attains empathy from viewers.
Duplicity and reflection shine a light on the truth behind these two moons as “The House of Rising Sun” strums along to the real definitive core of the plot within The Endless (seriously, look up the meaning to the song if you don’t know it already). Justin’s continuous worry about his brother’s well being and Aaron’s need to receive support balance the two halves trying to feel whole. The two embody major organic, endless processes of life including love, loss, and recovery. Their shared trauma steadily moves the narrative as their normal sibling behavior solidifies a real relationship. It’s obvious that Benson and Moorhead are capable of illustrating relatable characters, but they also have the ability to produce entertaining, well-rounded performances. Justin and Aaron both learn that it takes time to find what they’re looking for, eventually meeting one another somewhere in the middle.
“The use of time symbolism, visually and verbally, in each progressive event of the film is so unbelievably detailed that I dare any observant viewer to attempt keeping track.”
Meaning and intention meet application and entertainment in a realistic realm conjured up by two talented filmmakers. If you’re fascinated by cult activity and time travel, Benson and Moorhead’s altered journey through the here and now is a trip worth taking. The Endless is currently streaming on Netflix, so be sure to watch before it disappears. Nothing sticks around forever… most of the time.
Have you seen Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless? What do you think of this timeless cult film? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!