In 2012, a science-fiction–horror hybrid called Resolution hit VOD services. Directed by the duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Resolution followed two old friends holed up in a run-down house out in the desert and stalked by an unseen entity. It boasted an intriguing premise that was masterfully executed with the kind of growing tension that defines the best of slow burn horror. Now Benson and Moorhead are back with their third feature length film, The Endless. Critical buzz for the duo’s latest effort has once again been outstanding.
Ten years ago, brothers Justin and Aaron (yes, played by the directors) escaped from what they described as a ‘UFO death cult’. Since relaying their story to the media, the brothers have struggled to build a life of their own. When they unexpectedly receive a video tape from one of the members, the brothers decide to return to the remote commune to try and gain some closure. During their weekend visit, increasingly strange phenomena occur prompting the brothers to question whether the cult’s beliefs may have some foundation in reality.
Effectively Engaging and Creepy Hybrid of Genres
The Endless liberally mixes genres including some science fiction, mystery, and horror elements.
The Endless liberally mixes genres including some science fiction, mystery, and horror elements. In terms of style and tone, Benson and Moorhead’s latest offering is perhaps most comparable to Alex Garland’s Annihilation. In spite of its hybrid approach, the various genre elements are effortlessly combined to create a slow burn atmosphere. For much of the movie, The Endless plays out as a psychological horror before throwing out a a fun twist with an ‘a-ha’ moment for those fortunate enough to have seen Resolution. To say much more about the film’s twist would be criminal.
In the absence of standard jump scares and explicit gore or violence, The Endless relies heavily on luring the audience into the story and embedding a sense of dread. From the moment Justin and Aaron arrive at the commune, there is a sense that something is not quite right. However, early warning signs in The Endless are largely subtle. Awkward meetings, silent exchanges, and one cabin curiously locked and off limits are the only cues that something is amiss. As the story progresses, these subtle cues are slowly increased leaving you with the feeling that it may already be too late for the brothers. The overall sensation of watching The Endless is a feeling of steady unease.
The overall sensation of watching The Endless is a feeling of steady unease.
Once Benson and Moorhead introduce the science fiction elements of their story, The Endless becomes enthralling as it merges its creepy atmosphere with an intriguing puzzle. The film’s twist in the narrative, however, is not just a gimmick or plot device. It serves to introduce an interesting subtext to the overall story. Additionally, the game-changing story element casts doubt over what direction the film may opt to take lending suspense to the film’s climax. Benson and Moorhead also show their audience a lot of respect, refusing to spoon-feed their ideas to you.
Strong Characters Anchored by Believable Performances
Even as The Endless takes a turn towards science fiction the film still feels grounded thanks to the performances from its cast. Both Benson and Moorhead are believable as brothers struggling to find a place in the world outside of the cult that rescued them as children. Benson’s screenplay gives these characters relatable struggles that help the audience invest. The relationship between the brothers is also well developed, which gives The Endless an emotional core to anchor its more ‘out there’ ideas.
Callie Hernandez is fine in her role as cult member, Anna, but she isn’t given too much to do in the film. Sadly, fantastic character actor Lew Temple feels similarly underutilized in his small role. Tate Ellington stands out courtesy of his strong performance as cult leader, Hal. Ellington has one of the best acting moments in The Endless conveying a sense of hurt over what he feels was a betrayal by the brothers. It’s a moment in the film that works in part due to a smart script that avoids infusing any of its characters with stereotypical traits associated with cults. But Ellington also makes the moment work by giving his character depth.
Engaging Themes and Subtext
The Endless is more than just an engaging viewing experience; it’s a film that challenges with ideas. For many viewers who just want a creepy horror experience, this may not matter or influence the decision to watch The Endless. As a viewer, I was personally intrigued by the range of possible themes that Benson and Moorhead built into their third film. The Endless raises questions about personal choice and the extent to which choices can trap us in unhappy lives. Others may interpret the story as addressing religion and the nebulous nature of belief. Regardless of how different viewers read it, The Endless is an intelligent film that will leave audiences thinking long after the credits have finished rolling.
Another Winner for the Genre in 2018
In what has so far been another banner year for the horror genre, The Endless stands out as a particularly strong entry. Benson and Moorhead deserve credit for investing an interesting premise with a strong story, believable characters, and a creepy atmosphere. It builds wonderfully from their previous work in the criminally underseen Resolution. At the halfway point of 2018, The Endless deserves to be included in any list of best horror films.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A