THE ENDLESS [2017]: In Selected UK cinemas and on Digital HD 29th June, On Blu-ray and DVD 2nd July

()
Directed by: ,
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

USA

SHOWING IN SELECTED UK CINEMAS AND AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL HD 29th June, AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD 2nd July

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

Brothers Justin and Aaron’s mother died in a car crash but were brought up in a strange commune called Camp Arcadia. Ten years ago, just before the place’s inhabitants were about to undergo a ceremony called The Ascension that may have involved suicide, Justin the older brother whisked the two of them away and they even made newspaper headlines. Now though, Aaron is sick of the poverty-stricken, miserable life they lead and becomes nostalgic for Camp Arcadia when the brothers receive a video tape with a message from Anna, a woman they knew at the commune. Justin agrees to accompany Aaron back to the camp for one day’s stay. The Ascension doesn’t seem to have happened, nobody there seems to have aged, the deity they all worship seems to show signs of actually existing, and other strange, seemingly inexplicable occurrences begin to take place….

 

The Endless is apparently a kind of sequel to Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson’s 2012 debut film Resolution, expanding the universe of that movie and even featuring its two main characters of that movie in quite a few scenes. Therefore I do wonder if a viewing of Resolution [which I haven’t seen] would help at least a little to explain the mind-bendy goings-ons in The Endless – though I’m not totally sure of that, and there’s an argument that too much clarification can ruin something that’s better off shrouded in mystery. If asked to describe it in short terms I’d call it a cross between Triangle, Twin Peaks: The Return and the TV series Children Of The Stones, though like the best indie head scratchers it also has a lot of originality and is most definitely its own movie. It’s extremely creepy, highly unpredictable and strangely amusing in a way that reveals that its creators aren’t taking it all ultra-seriously but which doesn’t diminish the eeriness. It’s a slow burner, to the point where some viewers may find a few scenes extraneous, though after it had finished I wanted to spend even more time in Camp Arcadia, a sure sign that the film succeeded for me despite two rather iffy central performances and some set pieces which aren’t pulled off very well. And I’m certainly going to check out Moorehead and Benson’s previous two efforts.

The film begins with a quote from H. P. Lovecraft concerning fear of the unknown [fans of this wonderful writer will probably know it], followed by another, anonymous but possibly partly true quote about people’s reluctance to admit how they feel to their relatives until it’s very late in the day. Both quotes give you clues to what this film is about and are worth remembering even when things get extremely weird. Then we meet our two brothers Justin and Aaron who are played by Moorehead and Benson themselves, and I guess I should now get what I found to be the biggest flaw of The Endless out of the way so I can concentrate more on the good stuff of which there’s certainly a lot. While they do possess some of the chemistry that two siblings ought to have in their early scenes, neither is much of an actor – well, either that or the fact that the duo also direct, write, photograph, edit and probably do several other duties too left them little time to focus on their performances. Especially weak is Benson whose character has to undergo more changes then Moorehead’s. At one point he has a go at someone and afterwards should probably display anger and panic for the rest of the film but he just reverts to being as laid back as he seemed previously. The dynamics of the brothers’ relationship still comes through though, largely due to their writing which is quite subtle and full of telling details, but there were several times when I wondered how even more effective the film as a whole would be with two good performers in the two lead roles.

Never mind, the exposition is nice and concise as we get some idea of the dreary current life of the brothers while flashbacks to a younger Justin and Aaron talking to the camera after he’s gone to the press about his experiences, TV reports and newspaper headlines are cut in. Justin doesn’t want to return to Camp Arcadia, but Aaron doesn’t remember the bad things that Justin seems to recall, and really wants to go back. Their journey there has a real ominous feel with Moorehead’s cinematography making the California desert seem slightly alien in feel, and then there’s that constantly grinning guy standing by the entrance to Camp Arcadia. The inhabitants there don’t seem to have gotten any older, though the brothers do seem to be made welcome and appear to be forgiven for leaving and giving the group a bad name ten years ago. Something’s decidedly off though, be it the oldish man dressed in clothes from at least hundred years ago or the fact that Anna, who looked after Aaron as a child, seems to have fancied him as a pre-adult. The two become friendly without Anna’s boyfriend seeming to mind. Justin himself forms a friendship with Lizzy who’s escaped from a mental institution, but certainly isn’t relaxed in the way that his brother is. That’s not surprising when the group’s idea of recreation is to engage in a tug of war with some invisible being. The cult members seem to worship this being which sends the group messages via cassette tapes [sometimes found in water] and Polaroid photographs [I’m not making this up]. The group members pass this all off as normal. And what’s with all the signs that say “please be quiet”, what’s in the locked shed, why are there two or sometimes three moons, and why does the horizon occasionally seem divided into two halves?

It’s all beguilingly mysterious aided by some striking sound design. The main musical theme is the song House Of The Rising Sun which was chosen because the lyrics were in the public domain yet they happen to be about a son’s repetition of his abusive father’s sins which tie in with the circles that are seem all over the place in this film, small or large, natural or man-made. Eventually Justin, prompted by an encounter with Emily who’s very suspicious of this group and is looking for her husband, decides to leave but – well – I’m not going to describe any more of the plot which you really need to discover for yourself. You may very well be as lost as Justin and Aaron become, and, while we are given some indication of what’s actually going on, it’s all very vague. The heart of the story is of course the relationship between the two brothers, one of whom changed the other’s life for the worst without ever asking his opinion on the matter, and, despite my strong reservations about the performances, the way this relationship evolves is relatable and even believable. Moorehead and Benson know that even the strangest of films often needs a strong human dimension to hang on to, and give us a final scene which is really rather touching however you interpret what’s happening.

The film initially seems to take place around the turn of the 21st century judging by the technology, though later on even older thingd turn up to provide some of the eeriest moments. Of course it’s heavily suggested that the increasingly odd events could be down to the influence of the cult, along with isolation from ‘normality’, though there’s not a great deal that’s obviously cult-like about this group and we don’t see a single one of them do anything really bad even though cliches are sometimes played with like the hints of liberated sexuality. Despite this, Moorehead and Benson show a David Lynch-type knack for imagery which is disturbing without seeming to try very hard, like someone repeatedly bashing his head on the inside of a tent. One fairly major character talks while his own dead body is in the background. Of course he doesn’t find the situation to be particularly odd. There are some good moments of fright too, though even the best of these tend to be subdued. Alongside this, the pace is indeed very slow but I was gripped in a calm way and things certainly speed up towards the end though some of the CGI in these later scenes tends not to be of very high a quality. Maybe one shouldn’t complain about that too much considering the very low budget, but I do wish that more strapped-for-cash filmmakers would consider going down the practical effects route, in some cases it could be cheaper. And a few moments in the final quarter seem to come from a more commercially minded but sillier and more careless film – though generally the touches of humour, sometimes quite absurdist, work well.

Generally The Endless is an impressive achievement. The way the camera likes to prowl around, adding greatly to the feel of unease, is also worthy of note, while outside of our two leads the performances tend to be well judged even if the odd Southern accent makes some of the dialogue difficult to understand. Tate Ellington is especially good as the hard-to-make-out cult leader Hal, really giving the impression of holding so much back. The Endless may strike a few wrong notes but is for the most part a most intriguing journey into strangeness that has intelligence along to go with its oddities. It may even make you think a little. Out of all the religions in the world, is any one particularly stranger than the other? And who’s to say that just one of them may be – you know – actually right?

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

 

The Endless was never going to be the best looking film but it still has a nice texture to it while its slight faded quality may have been intentional. Arrow have ported over all the special features from the Well Go Region ‘A’release and added an interview of their own. The Blu-ray comes with a similarly loaded disc of Resolution which isn’t part of the DVD release.

First up out of the special features is a very lively audio commentary with Moorehead, Benson and producer and Smiling Dave actor David Lawson Jnr. They’re full of enthusiasm and pride as they frequently bounce off each other whilst providing much of the information that you want. Some interesting bits include describing how some scenes that originally played out in full on their own were inter-cut with other scenes to provide more tension, and how different editing significantly changed the vibe of other scenes. Despite being the first of their films to be properly financed, The Endless was still a very cheap production, but luckily Camp Arcadia was already in existence – it’s where cast and crew lived during the filming of Resolution!

The new fourteen minute interview with the brothers reveals how this film begun life as a sketch comedy and how they took on the project just to get something off the ground as they were fed-up with being “professional meeting takers”. They advise that the viewer watch The Endless, Resolution, then The Endless again. The half hour making of covers similar ground but expands on some things as Moorehead and Benson take us through conception and production from several sets and even Switzerland where a film festival was showing the film while rehearsals and footage from the filming sometimes play in the background. Some other crew members are interviewed too and Benson bravely mentions how his mother died during filming and how it may have affected things. They point out a surprising number of things that are CGI that I didn’t notice – I guess that’s a good thing. Breaking The News is an amusing three minutes of Benson telling Vinny Curran [Chris Daniels] that Peter Cilella the actor sharing scenes with him was to be cut out because of his poor acting. Casting Aaron and Casting Smiling Dave are brief auditions with the accent on humour, while the VFX Breakdown is two minutes of just that.

UFO Cult Comedy was the improvised comedy film that led to The Endless; the four minute scene here of the brothers [who have supposedly been abandoned by the cult and are trying to track members down so they can Ascend] annoying a cult member is rather funny and I’d like to see the rest of it even though Moorehead and Benson don’t think that it’s much good. Vinny’s Story has Vinny Curran film himself getting up and walking around one of the sets for nine minutes. How much you enjoy this will probably on whether you find masturbating and sexual diseases funny, though I did chuckle when he says that Peter Cilella wanted his bagels steamed. Michael Felker is five minutes of scenes from the movie in which people keep mentioning – Michael Felker. The eight minutes of deleted scenes contain little of worth, mainly slight extensions of moments, but the ten minutes of outtakes provide some laughs.

 

Some of the extras that are on the silly side aren’t really necessary, but Well Go should still be praised for putting together such a packed release and Arrow praised for retaining everything. Despite a few niggles, The Endless is a fine example of low budget ingenuity proving that limited funds need not be a barrier for talent and originality. The Doc highly recommends!

 

TWO-DISC LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY CONTENTS

*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of The Endless and Moorhead & Benson s first feature, Resolution
*DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Reversible sleeve with a choice of artwork designs
*Limited edition collector s booklet containing new writing on the films by critics Jamie Graham and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

DISC ONE: THE ENDLESS
*Audio commentary by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
*Brand-new interview with Benson and Moorhead, recorded exclusively for this release
*Behind-the-scenes featurette
*Breaking the News, Benson and Moorhead pull a practical joke on actor Vinny Curran
*Casting Aaron, Benson, Moorhead and producer Dave Lawson audition for the role of Aaron
*Casting Smiling Dave, Lawson auditions for the role of Smiling Dave
*VFX Breakdown
*UFO Cult Comedy, improvised short film made whilst Benson and Moorhead were on the festival circuit
*Vinny s Story, a behind-the-scenes documentary filmed on-set by Curran
*Michael Felker, a tongue-in-cheek featurette referencing The Endless s editor
*Seven deleted scenes
*Outtakes
*Theatrical Trailer

DISC TWO: RESOLUTION
*Audio Commentary with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and actors Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran
*Audio Commentary with Benson and Moorhead
*Audio Commentary with Carmel the Dog
*Brand-new interview with Benson and Moorhead, recorded exclusively for this release
*Archive interview with Benson and Moorhead
*Behind the scenes featurette
*Weird extras: How Resolution Will Help You Have Sex, Shane the Missing Character, Topless Scene, Extended Scene: Lawyer Call and Alternative Ending
*Outtakes and unseen footage
*Film festival promos

 

SPECIAL EDITION DVD CONTENTS

*Audio commentary by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
*Brand-new interview with Benson and Moorhead, recorded exclusively for this release
*Behind-the-scenes featurette
*Breaking the News, Benson and Moorhead pull a practical joke on actor Vinny Curran
*Casting Aaron, Benson, Moorhead and producer Dave Lawson audition for the role of Aaron
*Casting Smiling Dave, Lawson auditions for the role of Smiling Dave
*VFX Breakdown
*UFO Cult Comedy, improvised short film made whilst Benson and Moorhead were on the festival circuit
*Vinny s Story, a behind-the-scenes documentary filmed on-set by Curran
*Michael Felker, a tongue-in-cheek featurette referencing The Endless s editor
*Seven deleted scenes
*Outtakes
*Theatrical Trailer
*Reversible sleeve with a choice of artwork designs

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2266 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*