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Two brothers return to the cult they fled from years ago to discover
that the group's beliefs may be more sane than they once thought.
This film is more clever than it first appears, because it operates on at least two levels. On the surface, it is a taut, well-crafted horror story about a (possible) "death cult". We have some mysterious rituals, a missing husband, and seemingly silly camp activities that may or may not have a darker purpose.
Some of this is vaguely alluded to in the opening quote from H. P. Lovecraft, and further still during the lake "reveal". The scare quotes here are just because what is revealed at this moment is entirely up to the imaginations of the viewer. A certain Lovecraft story may provide a guide, or it may be merely a coincidence or red herring. But once the big reveal comes, everything goes dark, and the suspense truly becomes horror.
The subcutaneous level is focused on a theme: the truth of religion, either this one or religion in general. Though this film really only explores the reality of one (fictional) religion, it does make us wonder: what if some religions we find strange are actually right? With so many religions in the world, it is certainly possible that one or more are correct. And if the strangest ones might be right, we ought to question our own beliefs: do we believe correctly? With so many choices, it is hard to say for sure.
Though this deeper meaning may not have been intentional, it nevertheless exists and makes the film even more interesting. The filmmakers previously had a hit with "Resolution" (2012), but all signs point to "The Endless" being an even bigger success. The film played at Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, and will no doubt be seen by a wider audience throughout 2017.
Two grown brothers, who escaped a cult when they were kids, receive a
video from same cult, enticing them to return. The older Justin (Justin
Benson) has vivid and terrible memories of their time with the group,
but younger Aaron (Aaron Moorhead)has just hazy memories of pleasant
times. So, despite Justin's wishes, the two do in fact return to the
compound they left a decade earlier. But why are they being summoned
back? Are their lives (again) in danger? Or has the cult changed into
just being another Northern California commune? When the brothers
arrive in the middle of nowhere, they find the de facto leader Hal
(Tate Ellington), who explains that the group has prospered in the
years since Aaron and Justin left. Their primary source of income?
Homemade beer. Very hipster. The members of the small commune/cult each
have their own special skill, whether it's painting, knitting, magic
tricks. The list is pretty finite, actually.
But it isn't too long before things get a little unsettling. No spoilers here; the cult believes there is an all-powerful deity who exists only for them i.e., not a God from any other religion. This entity sends the group messages via cassette tapes and Polaroid photos. The group members pass this all off as normal; to be truthful, I found their happiness to be a bit unsettling. But Aaron, the younger/more impressionable of the brothers, wants to believe and is definitely looking for some structure in his life after a decade of menial jobs and no real direction. His wiser brother Justin, is strongly skeptical, but certain events do make him question his own sense of righteousness.
So this seems like a pretty straightforward story, doesn't it? Maybe there's something to the cult's thinking, maybe they're really just harmlessly living off the grid. But then a few somethings happen, and the movie switches from being about a crazed cult into being about, well, the neverending loop of reality. And that's when the movie really takes off. I'm talking about mindbending twists and some terrific special effects. Just like that, the plot zooms from just sort of floating about, intriguing but not enticing, and then it blasts into overdrive. And suddenly nothing makes sense, and everything makes sense. It's a huge trip.
For that reason, I really enjoyed this movie, the third I saw at this year's Spooky Movie International Film Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Endless was written by Benson and directed by Benson and Moorhead, and they score with all aspects of their work here. If you're looking for a distorted-reality movie, check out The Endless.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead wanted to make a film. The problem is
that they're newcomers to filmmaking and didn't have the millions it
usually costs to make a movie. So, they chose to star in the film,
direct, produce and Benson wrote the script! In addition, although the
film has some sci-fi/supernatural elements, they managed to create some
stunning special effects on the cheap! Watching it is like a lesson on
economical filmmaking...and it's a darned good film to boot!
Justin and Aaron (yes, the filmmakers use their real names) both apparently left a cult many years ago. Unfortunately, their lives have sucked since and not Aaron is growing wistful and wants to return to this cult for at least a visit. Exasperated, his brother eventually agrees to make the drive to the middle of no where. And, not surprisingly Aaron LOVES the place and wants to stay. Justin, on the other hand, soon learns more about the place and is scared to death...as Aaron eventually will be as well.
I would try to explain more about the plot but it's almost impossible to describe the plot. Instead, just watch it with an open mind and enjoy the high quality of the production. It's also a film with a few funny moments as well as harrowing ones...and a film that I am very happy I saw at the Philadelphia Film Festival.
28th STOCKHOLM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. DAY 4, NOV 11th 2017.
Swedish premiere at the festival on Nov 10th.
Going on that low-budget style, the grainy and sunlit photography works well in contributing to the atmosphere of the movie. Mindblowing.
With "The Endless" (2017), directors duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead delivers their third full-feature collaboration (excluding anthology film "V/H/S Viral" (2014)), after acclaimed "Resolution" (2012) and "Spring" (2014). Written by Benson, shot by Moorhead, co-edited by Benson and Michael Felker and produced by Benson, Moorhead and a few others, the film is filled with aspiration and holds some interesting ideas.
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