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Fantastic Fest Review: "The Endless" (2017)

Death Cults Aren't What They Used to Be

Ten years ago, brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron Smith (Aaron Moorhead) left the cult they eternally pledged themselves to. Unfortunately, they’ve struggled to make ends meet, find jobs, make friends, and get dates ever since they’ve tried to live out in the world on their own. Noticing that Aaron has been depressed for as long as he can remember, Justin agrees to go back to the cult in an effort to get Aaron into better spirits. But the cult seems to believe in logical ideas and is healthier than the average person. Aaron begins to feel like the cult is his home and wants to return there while Justin believes something more sinister is going on.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in "The Endless."

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in "The Endless."

Hearing that there was a connection between this film and the debut feature from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead called Resolution there was the initial concern that enjoying The Endless to its full potential wouldn’t be possible without seeing that first. Fortunately that’s not the case and The Endless is a fantastic expedition into the strangely unusual and the fatefully horrific. As a follow-up to Spring, The Endless is more satisfying in nearly every way.

The Endless paints an interesting perspective that explores how each brother views the cult. You can see why it would be promising to Aaron as he seems to be good at everything around camp, has a potential love interest, and feels like he belongs there more anywhere else. All of the creepy weirdness lying beneath Aaron's initial perspective of the camp is shifted over to Justin. He doesn’t have the same experience as Aaron and no longer fits in because he questions everything that doesn’t feel right while speaking his mind in the process. The Endless analyzes cult-life in a way that would slide perfectly into a film like Martha Marcy May Marlene or Sound of My Voice. The filmmaking style, subject matter, and screenwriting of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are similar to just about anything Brit Marling has done.

Some have found issues with directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead taking on the lead roles in the film, but their on-screen chemistry is solid and obvious familiarity with one another gives this legitimacy to their history. They’re comfortable enough with one another that their brotherly relationship is believable whether they’re bickering back and forth or relying on each other to get through a difficult time. The way the film addresses what the two went through as kids compared to how they approach similar situations as adults is also fascinating since how you remember something from your past isn’t necessarily as accurate as you’d like it to be.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in "The Endless."

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in "The Endless."

Not being familiar with The Resolution probably makes The Endless slightly more enjoyable than if you go into it knowing what you’re expecting. The film ventures into bizarre science fiction territory after introducing a death cult where the male members may castrate themselves just to fit in with the rest of the camp. The payoff is something that is way more intelligent than a low budget film has any right to be.

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The Endless has shades of both the horror and sci-fi genres with sequences that make the hair on your arms and the back of your neck stand on end one minute before stumbling into The X-Files levels of perplexing strangeness. How flawed the two main characters are makes them all the more realistic. The Endless delves into this unknown and seemingly unexplainable phenomenon and successfully allows the audience to wrap their head around something repetitiously terrifying.

© 2017 Chris Sawin

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