A triumph of American independent filmmaking.
Sometimes at a film festival, your biggest takeaway from a screening is, ‘I need to see that again.’ This was mine after seeing Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless, a film the duo wrote, directed, edited and starred in. A twisty sci-fi horror with sibling relationships at its core and a project over which the two creators clearly had a lot of control, the film entices viewers to dig deep into its complex plot and unearth the resonant themes. This is something I plan to do when my brain isn’t fogged up by the sheer volume of films I’ve seen at the MIFF, because The Endless is a fascinating film and a triumph in American independent filmmaking.
Moorhead and Benson play Aaron and Justin respectively, two cult-raised brothers from ‘Camp Arcadia’, a dusty campground way out in the sticks. Now free of the cult, they live together in a cramped apartment, working as cleaners and eating packet noodles for dinner. Justin is adamant they made the right choice by escaping, calling the place a ‘UFO death cult’, but Aaron wants to return for a day to check things out. After receiving a mysterious tape from Anna (Callie Hernandez), in which she mentions something about preparing for the ‘ascension’, the two return, intent on staying just one day. It’s then that things go a little askew.
Similar to the patron saints of modern indie filmmaking Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij (The Sound of My Voice, The East), whose first two films also revolve around mysterious cults, Moorhead and Benson show what you can do with a little money and a lot of control. Following on from their two earlier films Spring (2014) and Resolution (2012), The Endless is a mature and exciting work, proving that these shoestring budget films produced outside of Hollywood and separate from the major studios are some of the best things happening in American filmmaking today.
The film itself is a gradual tumble down the rabbit hole, as if the viewers were being drip-fed LSD as they watched. When the brothers make a rest-stop on their way to Camp Arcadia, Aaron notices two flocks of birds, circling around each other in an unnatural loop. During a night time campfire, one camper’s magic trick is a little too effective for the sceptical Justin to ignore, and a game in which the campers ‘struggle with a higher power’ is like playing tug of war with a Lovecraftian abyss.
Clearly, like the works of Marling and Batmanglij, The Endless a film that rewards multiple viewings. I can’t help but feel I might’ve missed a thing or two in my movie-addled state, but I’ll be sure to revisit—and I’ll be first in line for their next project.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.