In their beautifully realized 2015 horror work, Spring, the filmmaking team of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson somehow merged a magnificent love story along the lines of Before Sunrise with a disturbing tale of a hormonally activated creature. I don’t hesitate in calling it a masterpiece; it’s also a work that embraces its most cinematic elements. The writer-directors’ most recently film, The Endless, does not resemble Spring in many ways, but its construction also makes it a pure work of cinema, using a visual palette that no other storytelling medium could replicate.
The Endless follows brothers Justin (the older) and Aaron Smith (both played by the directors), who as children left a remote commune ten years earlier. When interviewed by reporters, Justin referred to the commune as a death cult, painting a portrait of the place as a Jonestown waiting to happen. But when the now-grown siblings receive a tape from one of their former friends from the group, Anna (Callie Hernandez), they realize their assessment of the group may have been wrong, s0 they decide to return and see what things are like.
Attempting to explain the goings-on at the site may be more trouble than its worth in a review, but the first thing that becomes apparent is that no one seems to have aged. Considering it has only been 10 years and that the occupants lead very healthy lives, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Everyone seems stable and happy to see them, but they do acknowledge that the exposure they got 10 years earlier was not a positive thing.
Of course, the most normal things seem, the more suspicious we become. And indeed, strange and unexplained events seem to occur. It could be something not of this earth, something supernatural, or just mystical energies that have sprung out of strange local rock formations in the desert.
The deeper into the film we get, the deeper The Endless dives into its mythology and the strange happenings around the settlement. The film is not a casual scary movie or thriller; it’s a solid, time- and space-twisting science fiction story that is also about the family we create around us versus the one we’re born into. It’s also about seeking the truth in a place where natural laws and rules no longer apply, so the truth is impossible to capture or define.
I don’t think I’ve pondered what feels like a genre film this deeply since Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, but comparing the two doesn’t feel exactly right. Like Carruth’s work, the sense is that the viewer should simply give themselves over the work, see how it plays out, and wait until all is said and done before even attempting to dissect what you’ve just experienced.
The Endless is disturbing at times, comforting, darkly funny and even confounding, and that’s all part of the ride to which you commit. My immediate reaction to watching it was to re-watch it, because I’m guessing a second viewing will straighten out and solidify a great deal. And the entire affair had an undercurrent of slow-building tension that culminates quite spectacularly. There are few things more satisfying to long-time genre fans as films that embrace the tropes but also make the audience think, contemplate, interpret, and discuss the possibilities. The Endless checks all of those boxes and may even invent a few new ones. It’s that good.
The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.