The Endless. 2018. Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. Screenplay by Justin Benson.
Starring Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Lew Temple, Emily Montague, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Kira Powell, Peter Cilella, & Vinny Curran.
Love & Death Productions/Snowfort Pictures/Pfaff & Pfaff Productions
Rated 14A. 111 minutes.
From the moment I saw Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s 2012 feature debut Resolution, my fondness for the two directing partners was immediate. Their perspective on telling stories was unique compared to other indie horror filmmakers. Better than that, Benson and Moorhead only got better as time went on. Their follow-up, Spring, is one of the best Lovecraftian horror movies in existence (fight me). What’s always evident about the pair is their willingness to be different. No matter what movie they make it’s always imbued with a deep sense of weird.
The Endless again dives into Lovecraft-esque ideas. Although I find Spring much more directly influenced by the famous horror author this movie’s got eerily similar vibes. The story concerns two brothers – played by Benson and Moorhead – return to a supposed UFO death cult they escaped years ago. There they uncover things about themselves and the cult, too.
What The Endless does so thoroughly is explore the meaning faith and the purpose of life itself. Lofty ambitions. Benson and Moorhead are storytellers equipped with the abilities to touch on such themes. Their movie’s a mix of horror, dark fantasy, science fiction, and a road trip drama about two brothers trying to reconcile their respective disappointments in life.
The movie challenges ways in which different groups can be cults. It doesn’t have to be an actual cult with a creepy faith. A cult can be a family— not only one like Charlie Manson made, either. Benson and Moorhead play brothers Justin and Aaron Smith, who’ve escaped a dangerous cult. As the plot wears on we discover Justin’s been hiding things from his brother, manipulating him, similar to how a cult leader might manipulate a person.
Aaron finds out being family doesn’t necessarily mean someone is looking out for your best interest, or that they aren’t controlling. Perception v. reality is of significance to the story. Justin uses the perception of fringe faith to spread rumours about the cult, all to get his brother away from them. However, even if the cult were dangerous, he’s only substituting one form of brainwashing for another. Either purposely or inadvertently, Justin replaces the leader of the cult by manipulating his brother with dishonesty. Ironically, in the end, Aaron only ever wanted Justin to respect him enough to let him make his own decisions, rather than usurp his free will. Goes to show a family can be a cage rather than a bond, depending on where the power lies, and how that power comes about in the first place.
A symbolic aspect of the brotherhood plot within The Endless has to do with the recurring use of “The House of the Rising Sun”— also known as “Rising Sun Blues,” a classic folk ballad. The song dates back to least 1905, when miners would sing it while working. It’s interesting due to the fact early versions of the ballad were written from the perspective of one sibling warning another about the titular house. Perfect fit for the story and its plot(s).
Overall, The Endless deals with all cults. In that, cults/fringe faith groups are always seeking to explain the purpose of life for those who seek them out. The Lovecraftian vibe of the movie comes from evidence the audience sees that there is indeed a greater power at work in those woods. But whatever’s out there doesn’t provide people with a purpose, or operate on “silly little metaphors,” or lead anyone towards higher knowledge. Its options are either limited perspective immortality, in which a person is stuck in a loop like a predetermined fate recurring in a cycle, or you can die. There’s an oppressive indifference about this thing’s power.
Best part about the latter portions of the plot is the movie pits fate against free will— the former is the very thing cults preach. Cults act as if they’re about freeing the mind, however, they’re all geared towards a version of fate, whether it’s a Heaven’s Gate-style end (referenced by Benson in the wonderful script), a Jim Jones cocktail, or an apocalyptic firestorm like the Branch Davidians and David Koresh. The finale takes the brothers to the edge, as they’re nearly caught in the destructive, endless loop of immortality that powerful entity brings down on them. After they make up, Justin and Aaron use what free will they have left to flee. Instead of escaping their real lives through the cult, as many do using faith as a method of running away, the brothers reject fate, and choose to truly live free.
The story becomes an allegory for how people get stuck in and then, if they’re lucky, escape the repetitive, often abusive cycles in their lives. Both brothers escape preconceived notions about life and purpose, allowing them to further get away from the cult and that forceful entity.
The Endless uses the story of the two brothers to explore faith, purpose, free will, fate, and much in between. They eventually rebel against “an order to things” after they discover the full truth of what’s been going on in the cult they once left. In the end, they break the cycles trapping them in seemingly purposeless lives. Instead of settling for a life of immortality, monotony, and inescapable fate, the brothers use their agency and autonomy to figure out another way forward.
So much to love about Benson and Moorhead’s movie, from a twisting, turning plot to its imagery to the performances. Easily one of Father Gore’s favourites in 2018. This is less a Lovecraftian story than Spring, focusing more on faith in general + the opposing forces of fate and free will. Great to see this directing pair’s influences on their sleeves. Also refreshing they’re not at all one-note. I do enjoy Lovecraft, but there are so many other great writers of cosmic horror, he’s not the only one. Feels like anything cult-related these days is automatically linked to him.
Lovecraft looms large over the movie, no doubt. Regardless, Benson and Moorhead tread their own ground, specifically when it comes to the entity of the story, and the plot is not cold or totally devoid of hope. The Endless is exciting, it’s funny at times and dark at others, there are strong themes, and, above all else, there are a bunch of creepy moments to crawl under your skin. Dig in, find your reward— movies like this are perpetually enjoyable, because everyone can take away something different.