Endless, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/26/17 03:47:56
SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson have not only not made a bad movie yet, but they're 3-for-3 in making fantastic films that at some point make the viewer's eyes bulge with delight at one point or another, when it becomes clear that they are doing something really clever. "The Endless" is no exception, building tension in an almost conventional way and then making sure that both the things that build mystery and resolve it are genuinely thrilling. It's a genuinely great horror film that will excite their fans and likely impress even those who aren't huge fans of the genre.Benson & Moorhead also star in the movie, playing brothers Justin and Aaron Smith, who escaped from a cult ten years ago. Or at least, that's how Justin puts it; younger brother Aaron still romanticizes the group and tends to skip his deprogramming appointments. He might be tempted to go back if the pair didn't receive a videotape in the mail, but that's what it takes to get Justin to join him for a visit, especially with it referencing a mysterious "ascension" and seeming to end with disaster. So they return to Camp Arcadia, past the oddly-fresh memorial for their mother on the side of the road, and see that things have not changed much - Hal (Tate Ellington) is still working on some strange equation, Aaron still has a huge crush on Anna (Callie Hernandez), and neighbor Carl (James Jordan) is still kind of a jerk. There are new additions - cute artist Lizzy (Kira Powell) and Jennifer (Emily Montague), who came to California after her husband disappeared. There are secrets here which could, at the very least, tear the brothers apart.
This is only the pair's third feature (after Resolution and Spring), but one can already see strong themes emerging in their work that runs deeper than the love of analog media or the threat of something too ancient for its origins and purpose to be properly remembered. All of their films deal in some way with the idea of getting stuck at some point in one's life and someone trying to break free, and they aren't shy about laying this idea right out there from the start, with Aaron especially wanting to return to the safety of the place that sheltered them when their mother died and Justin trying to mount an argument for moving them forward. Right at the start, it's feelings that most in the audience can immediately connect with, even if the source is unusual, and it forms the bedrock of the movie.
Once that's established, the pair digs in, hammering at the cracks that already exist in the brothers' relationship and laying the foundation for some genuinely creepy scenes. They're good at making small things that don't require much in the way of effects unnerving, but also building a world where this can manifest in otherworldly ways. They make exceptionally good choices in where to be specific and where to leave things unknowably vague - there's a well-mapped detail to the strange phenomena that Justin and Aaron encounter, for instance, but knowing that doesn't make it less scary, just more frighteningly inescapable, which feeds back into the movie's themes of not being able to move past something. As they start to buck against that, the more overt, abstract horrors start to appear, and they're larger-than-life in an almost Lovecraftian way, like the camera literally can't be pointed at them. And then... well, can't tell you, but some fans will love where this goes, with a bit of unexpected excitement rippling through the festival audience at one point.
Even if that potentially inside-jokey scene doesn't push someone's buttons, it will still at least do the work it needs to a little better than one might expect. The filmmakers are able to slide the audience from an almost documentary-style opening designed to get a fair amount of background out quickly to something that still feels intimate and personal before opening things up wide. The production design is fantastic, from the earthy and worn-down to the delightfully otherworldly, and sound is used near-perfectly. There's a real art to finding just the right ambient sound for maximum creepiness and being able to jolt without disrupting that feeling.
It's an interesting choice that Moorhead and Benson opt to step in front of the camera for more than director cameos here - anybody who has seen them introduce their films at a festival will attest to their charisma and chemistry, but a dramatic performance is something else. They come through well, though, making the pair feel out of sync with the normal world and then handling the familiarity of the camp in interestingly contrasting ways. Meanwhile, everyone else around them is hitting just the right notes, where the cultists seem just a bit off on the one hand but also more relatable and steady than their situation might imply.It pulls together in such a way that "The Endless" is a special treat for those already on this team's frequency, a smart horror story that balances dark fantasy and human anxieties very well and shows that hope and despair make each other stand out more. But even if "Resolution" and "Spring" weren't particular favorites, there's still a lot to love in this movie, no matter what direction one comes at it from.
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