You know that one girl on your Instagram feed…probably named Ashley or the like…the one that makes her own therapeutic “aromatherapy” products (that she cons certain gullible middle aged women into purchasing), grows all of her own organic foods and “medicines,” (aka she’s a witch doctor), and swears that spiritualism lies within “meditation” and yoga? Imagine a whole, entire hipster cult of that annoying girl- but throw in some UFO-believing men too, that try to convince their followers that suicide is an ideal option for their situation? That is what kind of people you are watching in The Endless– except it is told in a much more artistic and intelligent way than annoying Ashley’s Instagram feed, and you realize that this spiritual cult is actually on to something here…
Opening with a significant Lovecraft quote about man’s greatest fear, which is the fear of the unknown, The Endless introduces us to two brothers, Aaron and Justin, who are attempting to make sense of their lives after leaving a UFO death cult many years before. Despite their foray into normalcy, Aaron still misses his life that he shared with the cult- especially after receiving a video message from a current member. Justin, on the other hand, appears to be the more sensible brother, as he explains that he figured out the cult’s suicidal intentions, and got him and Aaron out of there just in the nick of time, before their lives could have possibly ended. After one of their deprogramming therapy sessions one day, Aaron suggests they return to Camp Arcadia for “closure,” and Justin reluctantly goes along with it, hoping his brother will be reminded of all the toxicity they left behind a decade before. Upon their return, we quickly realize that this cult is even more bizarre (and more accurate) than we originally presumed, in which you’ll be whispering “What the fuck?!” to yourself more than once over the course of its 112-minute run time.
Being hailed as the “best” horror film of 2018 via Rotten Tomatoes (Sorry, but Hereditary deserves this title over this one, in my opinion), The Endless, like Hereditary, contains a complicated plot that may leave your head spinning at the end. And also like Hereditary, The Endless is surely worth your time breaking down. It should be noted that The Endless is probably more of a sci-fi/mystery film than “horror” per se, though. I myself am not super into sci-fi genre stuff, but even I was pulled in from the get-go. So, for all you millennials who claimed Hereditary was more of an arthouse drama than a “horror film” (YOU’RE WRONG, BY THE WAY) don’t get your hopes up that you’ll be scared/scarred for life from The Endless– however, you will be thinking about what it wants you to take away from it for some time.
Written, directed by, and starring Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, following their previous films Spring and Resolution, The Endless shares its universe with Resolution– and what an intriguing universe it is. For what the film lacks in the physical horror or scares that some may be seeking in their horror cravings, The Endless makes up for in its use of dread and competence. I may not have been fearful throughout the film, but I was riveted at figuring out exactly what the hell is going on at the core of this micro-budget movie.
A cult leader who seems to speak in metaphorical circles, that sane people simply won’t understand; a woman who is desperately searching for her missing husband, in spite of looking “everywhere”; a man who is tied up in his house, because his best friend is trying to stop him from drinking and using drugs; cult members who look way younger for their ages than they should look…all serve as clues to the mystery that lurks within this metaphorical movie– and if you blink, you’ll miss something.
*Spoilers* from this point forward!
As we come to realize towards the film’s final third act, this universe is trapped in various lengths of time loops, to the entertainment of a mysterious monster that will kill these people in horrific manners, before resetting their loops to do it all over again. If the trapped people attempt to kill themselves– before the monster gets to them– they get reset back from the beginning- literally living in an endless cycle of monotony and death, which brings me to the first major theme of the film:
- Theme 1: Cycles of Existentialism
The biggest takeaway that filmmakers Moorhead and Benson want you to chew on from this is that, your life will never change, until you yourself make changes to it. Sure, all of us feel monotony in our lives: we go to the same job, 5 days a week, see the same people, follow the same rules, work to live, etc., and we all do our share of complaining about it. Are we doing enough with our time here on earth? Would you rather live forever, as in, live the same day, on a loop, as the same age, over and over again, under somebody else’s control? Or would you rather live day to day, in a boring, existential crisis, within a routine of your own making, not under somebody else’s terms, until you die? There are no simple answers. Especially in terms of best friends Michael and Chris, who got stuck in this time loop in the first place, trying to get Chris to end his drug addiction. He would not change his life, therefore his life kept repeating itself over and over again.
- Theme 2: Denial
There is always some form of denial that lurks within a cult atmosphere– whether a cult leader is denying societal beliefs, so that his or her members will follow them instead, or the denial of basic pleasures like sex, music, and food, in order to “give yourself over to the greater good” of your cult community. In The Endless, wishy-washy brother Aaron thinks that Anna, a much older cult member, has always liked him, and that they were possibly meant to be together before his exiting of the cult, while Justin reminds him that Anna was at least 20 years older than him, and that she used to “make eyes at” him, way back when he was very young, which would make her a pedophile. Aaron argues with Justin that “women can’t be pedophiles” because he can’t seem to grasp that Anna may have had negative intentions with him when he was a child. Even Justin struggles with his own denials and stubbornness about how he think that Justin and Aaron should live their lives.
- Theme 3: Familial relationships/siblings/how much protection can be too much
Throughout the film, we watch Aaron and Justin share conflicting views of how they each believe they should live their lives. While I can safely say that most of us can side with Justin’s view in the beginning, in which he believes that staying away from the cult and living safely (albeit, boringly) is what is best for them, Aaron comes off as the less mature brother, who needs guidance and protection from Justin, when he starts to express distaste for his life that is controlled by routine and monotony. Even though he often sets Aaron straight, Justin can be almost too overbearing at times- to the point where the brothers get some things off their chests before escaping the time loop universe. Aaron notes that Justin always “fucks” things up, and they slightly argue before subtly agreeing that Justin isn’t always right, and Aaron isn’t always as naive and wide-eyed as Justin treats him.
I found myself conflicted at the film’s final moments– on one hand, I was relieved that Aaron decided to leave with Justin, and that the two brothers made peace with each other, believing they may not escape the monster’s wrath– even though that ended up making it out of there alive and well. On the other hand, I was expecting a bit more of a bleaker solution, which would have been a tad ballsier. Had Aaron decided to stay with the cult, would we have seen Justin follow-suit? Or, if Aaron and Justin had not made it through the monster’s time loop wrath in time, and they both had died in front of our eyes, would the film’s messages about not taking life for granted, and making the most of each day you have, have affected us on an even deeper level? I was truly surprised at the lack of reprimand that the last few minutes contained, especially in its tonal change from the rest of the movie. But that’s not a critique- just a personal observation.
The Endless definitely deserves discussion and appreciation, and will hopefully have its own cult following (see what I did there) in the future. I’m looking forward to checking out Resolution to see how everything links together, as well as other future projects from Moorhead and Benson.~