After garnering much buzz on the festival circuit, we were finally able to catch THE ENDLESS at last night’s screening of Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The film promised to be a unique, indie gem. The film’s creators, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, have two surprisingly refreshing films in their rear-view; Spring and Resolution.
Their journey together as filmmakers is also a unique one; after the surprising success of Spring, instead of going on to do studio projects and conform with the all-consuming beast that is Hollywood, they opted to make another picture on their own. The Endless. And in an effort create the best film possible while remaining budget conscious, both Moorhead and Benson co-starred in, co-directed, and co-produced the film. They wore other hats as well; Benson wrote the story and also served as editor, and Moorhead acted as cinematographer.
So, before even going into The Endless – it’s already earned my respect. There’s something endearing and honest about an artist’s determination; creating stories that beg to be told. Maybe it’s that there’s something in their grassroots style of filmmaking that we could all learn; stop waiting for it to land in your lap and just get off your ass and do it yourself. And, lucky for The Endless‘ audience, Benson and Moorhead also happen to be pretty darn good at it.
After a mysterious videotape that arrives in the mail from a cult they’d abandoned, Aaron Smith (Moorhead) convinces his older brother Justin (Benson) to return for a visit. Since ‘escaping’ the cult, the boys’ lives have been lackluster. They struggle to make ends meat at a cleaning company, and by night live in a small flat eating ramen for dinner. Everyday they wake to the same bland existence. When the cult’s video arrives, it sparks old memories. Aaron only remembers the good times; delicious food, fun, adventure, free time. Justin remembers something darker, more sinister. And despite branding the commune as a ‘UFO death cult’, he reluctantly returns with his brother.
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The brothers agree to a one night trip and return to Camp Arcadia. They are welcomed with eerie, beaming smiles and heaping plates of food. There is beer and karaoke. Aaron feels immediately at home, cozying up to Anna (Callie Hernandez), the camp clothing designer who is old enough to have crafted his clothes as a child but has strangely not aged a day. Justin is a tougher nut to crack. He is suspicious of the camp’s unofficial leader Hal (Tate Ellington), who is all smiles and forgiveness upfront, but definitely sill harbours some resentment as the night draws on.
Things only get stranger after Justin convinces Aaron to stay at Camp Arcadia a second night. We learn that brooding Hal may not be the real threat – there may be something supernatural truly at hand. What begins as a relaxing getaway in the woods, soon becomes and adventure in discovering ones past, and then ultimately – escaping it.
There are too many spoilers to be had in this film, and I’m not going to ruin it for you. This story is complex and the mythology crafted behind all of its nooks and crannies is inspired, though eerie. Every scene we unravel a bit of the puzzle, and the mystery is a compelling one. The audience is no stranger to the threat of a cult – our guards are immediately up. We are suspicious from the beginning, but the tricks the filmmakers play roll us head-first towards unfamiliar territory. We can do nothing but sit, watch, and assemble the pieces.
Though the film slightly ties in with their previous film, Resolution, it is a stand-alone story. Think of the films as ven-diagrams, that only meet for a sliver near the edge. You don’t need to have watched Resolution to enjoy or understand The Endless. Fans of Lovecraftian horror will appreciate the connections as the strange and twisted universe the films’ share, expands its map. So, if you haven’t yet checked out Resolution, it makes a great companion film.
Moorhead and Benson’s rapport shines on the screen in The Endless. Despite being either filmmakers first starring role, they are surprisingly quick, comedic, and well timed. Their brotherly banter is honest. We are glued to them and their journey even when the mystery is at its thickest. We don’t have all of the pieces, we’re not sure where this will go, but they keep us concerned as to how it all plays out in the end.
Because of the powerful mythology lurking behind The Endless, it is a slow, building addiction. Though it can feel hindered by its budget restraints at times, you won’t care. The strength of this film is its story. And for a third time, Moorhead and Benson have proved themselves a unique voice in storytelling. The film never quite dives headfirst into Horror territory, but the mystery at its core leaves an unsettling sense of foreboding that sets the tone for every interaction. This film will haunt you, even if it doesn’t try to frighten you outright.
The Endless just recently screened at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The film will continue its festival circuit before receiving a full release in early 2018. Keep up with The Endless on their facebook page.