Directorial duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have spent the decade making quite the name for themselves in the horror genre. If their first collaborative feature –Resolution – made ripples, then their subsequent feature Spring certainly made a splash, perfectly striking a unique balance between romance and body-horror.
With their latest film, the pair are making waves. Since the film’s premiere at the esteemed Tribeca Film Festival, the directors are being cited amongst the genre’s most promising talents, and it’s clear to see why.
Along with directorial credits, Benson and Moorhead contributed to the editing, production, cinematography, and cast of their most ambitious effort to date – both taking on the lead roles of aptly names brothers, Justin and Aaron. Many years ago, the two siblings escaped what Justin claimed to be a UFO death cult, and now, lead a dull and seemingly meaningless existence. One morning, Aaron receives a video-tape which appears to be sent by the cult, depicting a bizarre message which compels them to go back to the site they once abandoned. Upon arrival, what appears to be the very caricature of a cult reveals itself to be something much more.
The Endless is a mysterious science-fiction tale made by two confident filmmakers who are unafraid to refuse answers to the audience. This doesn’t mean that the narrative is complex, it isn’t. However, the film feels born of a fascinating mythology which the director’s are yet to understand themselves. A grand and obscure force hovers over every location; polaroids drop from the sky to reveal that the characters are always being watched, the lake seems to be concealing a monstrous organism.
The very fabric of this universe is at the hands of a faceless creator. The desert setting is spectacular, providing some incredibly powerful imagery, notably a shot of the brothers approaching a rock formation which provides the treacherous landscapes with a monumental semblance. The aimless and shifting terrain is shot well to give the audience a sense that civilisation couldn’t feel any further away, or even, that what is shown is a space removed and manipulated to resemble earth, which is an interesting thought to account as narrative events escalate.
At its core, the film is about the relationship between two brothers, and the ways in which life is about uncertainty, approaching fate, and whether a selfless relationship makes these things easier to handle; in other ways, it is very much about alternatives, and the allure of escaping into another life. Through a sci-fi narrative, the directors are able to explore in creative ways the extent to which our lives can become pre-determined as we fall prey to routine, and the ways in which community can elongate the inevitability of feeling that life is a series of repeated moments.
It is certainly a piece of work that will reward audiences on the basis of what they themselves bring to it, and there is no doubt a number of meaningful and emotional takeaways from its narrative. As entertainment, it works better when it is most mysterious, since it does feel rather goofy in the last act as the scope widens to allow for some elaborate effects work. It would have been preferable to conclude on a note of unwavering dread rather than a glimpse of spectacle and in its final moments many will wish it were a scarier experience, because the potential for the film to be so is evident in many scenes. It almost makes up for this with admirable characters and an overall uniquely orchestrated vision, but the first act signals something more terrifying than is ever granted.
It’s a difficult work to categorise, yet a blend of Ti West’s The Sacrament and James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence may be an adequate description. For fans of Moorhead and Benson’s previous work, this will be an enjoyable affair. However, for those who feel that the horror genre is all scares and no substance, this is compulsory.