It’s not every day you come across a movie that makes you go “What the &$#%?!” As the story of brothers Justin and Aaron unfolds in The Endless, though, you may just find yourself going “What the $&#%?!” every few minutes.
Reminiscent of Primer, Donnie Darko, or one of the trippier episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Endless follows the brothers as they make a return visit to Camp Arcadia, the “UFO death cult” they escaped ten years earlier. After receiving a cryptic video in the mail describing the group’s impending “ascension,” younger brother Aaron yearns for the stability and comfort he remembers having there as a child, while older brother Justin wants to leave the past firmly in the past. Ultimately they agree to go back for one day and one night to get some closure.
Slowly Building Atmosphere of Dread
What transpires in Camp Arcadia and the surrounding wilderness is a spine-tingling crescendo of suspense. Behind all the campfires and karaoke, the fishing trips and magic tricks, the patterns of life at the camp march to the beat of a warped metronome. A combination of beautiful cinematography, sparingly deployed special effects, and a reliably ominous score imbue even the most mundane moments with a touch of grandeur—as well as a feeling that everything’s about to go to hell.
Some of the details that contribute the most to this feeling are so subtle as to almost escape notice. A clock with a twitchy second hand. A man walking single-mindedly through the background of a handful of early scenes. A simple 360° panoramic shot on a woodsy running trail. The peppering of “The House of the Rising Sun” here and there throughout the score. None of these is a showstopper, but each enhances the sense that something is not quite right. It’s the kind of movie you could watch again as soon as it’s over to look for clues you missed the first time around.
Sibling Rivalry and Surreal Phenomena
While The Endless fits more comfortably under the banner of horror than that of any other genre, it is the relationship between Justin and Aaron that really anchors the film. Their fraternal chemistry, full of camaraderie and antagonism, has the ring of truth. (This seems oddly fitting once you know that their respective actors, co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, have been making movies together for the better part of a decade.) Without giving too much away, as the story progresses, the otherworldly elements grow to mirror the utterly familiar conflict between the brothers.
Even when there’s nothing overtly uncanny afoot, the acting of the supporting cast keeps building that otherworldliness and feeding the brothers’ (and the audience’s) growing unease. This unease begins the moment the two drive into camp and attempt to greet Carl the walking man (James Jordan) and the silent, perpetually smiling Dave (David Lawson Jr.). Other commune members Hal (Tate Ellington), Anna (Callie Hernandez), and Shane (Shane Brady) at first seem perfectly ordinary but soon reveal, in ways small and big, that something strange is hiding behind Arcadia’s peaceful facade.
Hernandez in particular proves a master of the rapid change of expression that can turn the mood of a scene on a dime. And then there’s Kira Powell’s Lizzy, a young artist recently arrived at the camp, whose languid, dreamlike manner comes into stark contrast with the increasingly disturbing content of her drawings.
It’s not an ideal viewing experience for the squeamish or easily frightened—while not especially gory, it does have a bit of blood and one or two jump scares—but even folks who don’t usually like scary movies should find something to enjoy. And for those who do like scary movies? The Endless is a feast for the eyes, ears, and imagination.
Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Written by Justin Benson
Starring Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Emily Montague, Lew Temple, Tate Ellington, James Jordan
Total Run Time:
Opening in New York April 6th and Los Angeles April 13th with national rollout to follow
Images courtesy of THE ENDLESS Film
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and pie deliveryman. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College with a concentration in Poetry at Wellesley College. Since returning to Chicago, he has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company, where his and Gwen Kelly-Masterton's play The Land of Never-Lack was produced in Spring of 2016, as well as with the Old World Theatre Company and the late great Oracle Productions. Some of his writing can be found at haroldjaffe.tumblr.com and in his chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine, now available at Women & Children First.