The Endless Need to Belong

A few years ago, I did the 31 Days of Horror Movies thing in October. Each night, after my long commute home, cooking dinner and finally settling down for the evening, I would watch a horror movie I had never seen before. I had to be strategic about it. Some movies, like I Saw the Devil, were relegated to the weekend because of their length. I don’t remember how I came up with the movies, for the most part. A portion of them were ones I’d written down from listening to the Shock Waves podcast. Overall, I don’t really recommend doing this “challenge” because, as one can imagine, it becomes an actual challenge. It doesn’t seem like much—and lord knows there’s people like Brian Collins who kept it up far longer than 31 days—but I feel it reduces the movies to a chore to get through. Part of me wishes I never did it with new movies because instead of appreciating them for what they were, they became a conglomerated shunting hodgepodge of concepts, scares and thoughts. I couldn’t give each movie time to percolate in my mind because, heads-up, there’s another movie the next night.

One of the Shock Waves recommended movies was a little indie flick by two guys names Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead called Resolution. It was sandwiched somewhere between my first viewing of Martyrs and another highly recommended film called Kill List. It felt slight, when I watched it. And I barely thought about it since. The only reason it came back to me was because I starting hearing of this new film called The Endless and, as horror fans do, I scoured the internet for whatever information I could find. Turns out it was the third movie by this same pair. And as festival after festival went by, the hype built and built. To prepare, I ended up rewatching Resolution and had a new-found appreciation for the film. 

All of this is to say that I was eagerly anticipating The Endless and was waiting impatiently for its digital release. This type of movie is very difficult to talk about without getting into specifics. The first viewing is definitely what they call a mindfuck movie, where you’re not completely sure what’s going on. One recommendation I would make is to watch their previous two movies (Resolution and Spring) because there are some nice little winks, nudges and callbacks.

The basic plot is that two brothers were part of a UFO death cult when they were younger and the older brother (Justin) managed to escape with his younger brother (Aaron) in tow. In a sort of meta-narrative, the two brothers are played by the directors themselves and use their same first names. Justin is happy to be free from the cult, but Aaron struggles. He was much younger when they escaped and his memories of the place differ considerably from Justin's. Additionally, life isn’t so peachy in the real world, and they struggle to make ends meet and work through their past trauma with a therapist. When the film opens, Aaron receives a tape from the cult, insinuating that they have "ascended." Hoping to get some sort of resolution for Aaron, Justin concedes to going back to the cult for one day.

The first apparent thing about The Endless was how much Moorhead/Benson have grown as filmmakers. Spring was a big step up from Resolution, offering sweeping and panoramic shots of Italy and some pretty inventive creature work. The Endless takes it a bit further and it was striking rewatching Resolution and then following it up with The Endless how much they’ve grown. The scenery, in particular, was beautiful, both striking and oftentimes sinister. As if they were on a different planet.

I wouldn’t necessarily call The Endless a scary movie; it tends to stray more into the sci-fi realm than the horror, but when the horror hits, it hits hard. Some imagery has stuck with me since my viewing. It's amazing what the two filmmakers managed to achieve with a very limited budget.  While I'll concede that some of the effects almost buckled under the financial constraints, the art direction and limited use made them effective. But it's the idea of family and the bonds of brotherhood that sell the movie. Benson and Moorhead ground the story as one of familial yearning and acceptance and you can really feel for what these characters have missed. They're essentially orphans, alone in a cruel world that passed them by and struggling with the thoughts of returning to the comfort of their commune and the life, though sinister it may be, it offered.

Fans of the duo will love this movie. Fans of puzzle stories will also find lots to love here. The Endless is a film that welcomes repeat viewings, as you can see how all the pieces (and pieces of their previous work) fit together. 2018 has given us a diverse and interesting first six months of horror films and this one is definitely near the top.