Every now and then, there comes a little independent film that truly goes under the radar and blows you away. A film that you beg all your friends to see because you know it truly has the ability to break out if people give it a chance. This film to me has been Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless. A low-budget sci-fi horror which stands as an incredibly intelligent and original breath of fresh air in a world of cynical, pandering franchise cinema.
The film centres around Justin and Aaron (played by Benson and Moorhead themselves), two brothers who had previously escaped a UFO death cult in their youth and now living a normal, if unfulfilling, life, working a laborious job for a lousy amount of money while also finding it hard to truly assimilate into normal society. Sick of this life and after receiving a message from an old cult member, Aaron eggs on his older and more cynical brother Justin to visit their old cult overnight for closure. Justin reluctantly agrees to this and they embark on a visit to their old cult’s campsite. When they arrive, the cult is a warm and nice place, though everyone seems as odd as one would expect from cult members, their weird niceness creates an uneasy feeling that there is something very strange happening within the cult.
Justin having been the initiator of the escape as a teenager, doesn’t trust the cult members’ niceness, he just wants the night to be over. While Aaron having been too young to realise what was wrong with the cult and why Aaron would want to escape, is quite open to the members and starts having a sense of belonging he’s sorely been missing in life, making him slowly begin to be roped back in. This creates an incredibly effective dynamic between the two characters, bolstered by Benson and Moorhead’s brilliant on-screen chemistry as well as the often funny and naturalistic dialogue between the two characters.
While I won’t divulge into further plot and character details as it’s truly best to go into this film as blind as possible. That said the film does get incredibly heady and complex, moreso in a nearly abstract way like Shane Carruth’s Primer in comparison to something relatively straightforward like Alex Garland’s Annihilation (not a criticism to that film). Telling a story quite this intricate in a way that’s still thoroughly engaging to the audience is an incredibly difficult feat that Benson and Moorhead have not only pulled off as writers, directors and actors, but also taking on cinematography and editing duties. It is apparent these two are incredibly talented filmmakers who are incredibly in control of their craft and style.
While the scope they have pulled off is incredible especially considering the low-budget it had, there are times throughout the film where you are reminded that this is a low-budget film. The cinematography is mostly cleverly done, atmospheric and at times truly gorgeous, there are though a handful of shots in the film that look somewhat flat and too washed out. And at times the special effects can look a bit weird, though that can very well be intentional. It’s really hard to hold this against the film, however, considering the budgetary (and surely time) constraints that the film mostly overcomes incredibly well.
The Endless isn’t a perfect film, but it truly doesn’t need to be one. It’s an unbelievably ambitious project from a storytelling and technical standpoint that is pulled off nearly unbelievably well. It is a thoroughly entertaining beast of a horror film. It’s funny, sometimes downright terrifying and incredibly thought-provoking, while in the end being an authentic look at the human condition. It is a truly incredible feat of genre low-budget filmmaking that demands to be seen on the big screen.
The Endless is showing at Cinema Paradiso in an exclusive run now.