Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s 2014 fantasy horror Spring was a scintillating cine-fusion mending Lovecraftian crankiness within a credible tale, accomplished via authentic, otherworldly characters and a unique central concept. Their follow-up, The Endless (a pseudo-sequel to 2012’s Resolution) is much bolder and ambitious, twisting ostentatious, lobe nipping hypothesis with warped astrology, astronomy and supernatural whimsy. But, unlike Spring, its characters and arcs are arid, and not salient enough to govern a limp (in the latter half) plot-line.
After escaping a “UFO death cult”, middle aged brothers Aaron and Justin (played by the writer/directors) slip into a weary life working low paid jobs until one day they receive a package containing a dusty digital cassette; the contents of which prompts the pair to return to the death cult (Camp Arcadia) to solve the mystery of the tape and find out who sent it.
The Endless is a low budget, (but looks expensive) stoner horror sci-fi hybrid with potent notions and visual designs which lend well to its dusty, barren setting. Yet, with less attention given to the plot structure and characters, the story feels stifled by the far-fetched concept and fails to reverberate as remarkable.
Aaron and Justin (the characters) are amiable but not dynamic enough to be lead protagonists, despite their external conflicts. That human quintessence required to connect (or disconnect) viewers to stories seems muted by the grander notions and a shabby final act, making it tricky to empathise with the leads in their moments of peril and implausible plights. The story glibly dithers when tension should be heightened while meagre comedy does little to compensate for a lack of needed suspense.
The set-up is interspersed with interview footage which doesn’t sufficiently sync with the script but oddball supporting characters go some way to bolster; dotting the backdrop as puzzle parts for the brothers to piece together. A psychotic, over-smiley cult member, morose, bearded, pipe stoker, a perpetually marching, kill hungry hillbilly and a team leader peppered with ulterior motives. It’s these (and the film’s) mysteries which piques curiosity and makes the first half so enthralling.
Flickering suns like light bulbs, photos gliding on the wind and inexplicable magic tricks by duo moonlight are just some of the beguiling moments which make The Endless more than the average fantasy horror, despite its deficiencies. Surreal sound-scapes and slow-mo moments whip airs of off-centred menace while mystical sequences provoke gawks (not gasps) of wonder. Coen Brothers style circles are stirred in to reiterate the incessant nature of the ordeal. Clocks, record players and round river/bird flight patterns accentuate an incomprehensible eternity while close ups of ants scurrying on sand, writhing worms and angry maggots, unsettle.
The Endless seems (and probably is) unique, but some cult/genre film fans could draw comparisons to Ti West’s The Sacrament, Coherence, The Mist, Blair Witch, The Void and The Village while general cinemagoers may be a bit befuddled by the overall incongruity. The question of what beats at its heart is The Endless’ primary driving force but when the nature (not the source) is explored in greater detail, combined with the puny characters and lack of latter half twists, makes it (in the end) seem rather weightless. The Endless has the aesthetic merits to be a box-ticking cult curio but it stalls in too many pivotal regions (characters, structure and resolution) to blossom into a classic or resound as, as groundbreaking, as the concept behind it.