Horror Movies

THE ENDLESS. Mysterious and engaging science fiction horror

Brothers Aaron and Justin escaped from a cult ten years ago.

Krzysztof Walecki

20 February 2024

THE ENDLESS. Mysterious science fiction horror

The media covered the story, and the older brother, Justin, revealed details of life within the community, including circumcision as one of the practices, and the fact that members believe in aliens, culminating in plans for a collective suicide. But after a decade of “normal” life, the younger brother begins to yearn for their former place, especially after receiving a videotape on which a cult acquaintance, Anna, assures them that everyone is alive and happy. The men decide to visit the camp and somewhat close this chapter in their lives (this is how Justin rationalizes it, although not necessarily Aaron). Upon arrival, they discover that not much has changed there, from the excellent food and beer the members trade to the friendly, “cultish” atmosphere. Even the people look exactly the same as they did ten years ago. As if time hadn’t touched them.

The Endless by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson opens with a quote from Lovecraft, giving us some idea of the creators’ inspirations, but initially, the second thought seems more important to the plot, about the mysteries among loved ones, often revealed only on their deathbeds. The directorial duo knows that even the most original concept cannot do without the emotional journey of the characters.

The Endless Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson

The journey of the brothers to the place they left years ago offers the opportunity for an interesting observation of two people clearly lost in life. Everyday life has brought them disappointment, emptiness, and a sense of unfulfillment—we see in the prologue how they both work as janitors, still have sessions with a psychologist, struggle to form relationships with women, yet possess a full awareness of their own worth. Will they agree to let the cult give them happiness even at the cost of enslavement? Before Moorhead and Benson unleash their grand designs, they let their characters reflect on themselves, hinting at Justin’s hidden ambitions and Aaron’s quiet desperation (not coincidentally, they bear the names of the film’s directors, as it is the filmmakers themselves who play the main characters), but above all sacrificing the older brother so that the younger one can choose what is best for him.

The Endless Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson

The plot of The Endless quickly makes it clear that something is amiss with the reality they encounter. Initially, the men attribute this to the cult’s peculiarities, the atmosphere of the place. But how to explain the mysterious force that during a daily ritual pulls one end of a rope as if it were suspended in the clouds? Or the apparent magic trick—a ball thrown into the air that refuses to fall to the ground? How does 40-year-old Anna (Callie Hernandez) look much younger, and why do we see two moons in the sky at one point? If someone has seen the earlier films of the Moorhead-Benson duo, they won’t be surprised by a departure from realism in favor of fantasy, even horror. In their debut Resolution, a man comes to his drug-addicted friend to make him undergo forced detox, but quickly discovers signs suggesting that someone is planning a tragic end for them. The romance of a young American and a beautiful Italian in the charming Spring leads to equally dire consequences for both, as the girl harbors a terrible secret. And now The Endless, a film about a cult that may be right in its madness.

The creators aren’t particularly concerned with the tension that should arise from uncertainty about the true intentions of the hosts, i.e., whether they can in any way threaten the main characters and what lies behind the seemingly friendly invitation. Moorhead and Benson avoid typical questions for this type of story because the rest of the film is not typical either. As Aaron and Justin discover more secrets of the camp and the surrounding areas, they realize they have wandered into a place governed by its own rules, which they will have to learn if they want to survive. What threatens them? It’s easiest to say that the secret contained in the title itself, an end that will not come. And there’s no point in pondering this riddle now, as the film’s greatest strength lies in constantly expanding the world presented, adding more pieces to it, which keeps it astonishing throughout the entire 111-minute runtime. It’s difficult to write anything more without revealing numerous surprises.

The Endless Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson

In the case of The Endless, even the genre of this work is puzzling. A science fiction horror where the most terrifying things are not images but ideas; where fantasy touches on the realms of science and beliefs but still refuses to answer about the driving force of this world. It’s worth mentioning a world we’ve seen before in Resolution. We’re not dealing with a typical sequel here but rather a continuation of themes known from Benson and Moorhead’s debut, expanding them to almost mythological proportions. While that film played with the idea that form is inherent in its content, The Endless makes these considerations one of many conditions not to lose oneself in the place the main characters have stumbled upon. Comparing the two works, the debut appears only as a clever sketch, whereas the new work is already a picture full of vivid colors and unconventional compositional solutions. However, it’s not without its shortcomings.

The Endless Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson

The authors of The Endless, Aaron Moorhead Justin Benson—because it’s hard to call them anything else, given that both directors together filmed, edited, produced, and acted in the film, although it was Benson who wrote it and Moorhead who photographed it—are too enamored with the reality they’ve created, too focused on its complexity for the whole to evoke greater emotions. The conflict between the brothers gives way to mystery, fascination with the new world, and their moral dilemmas seem to matter little in the face of the revelations they discover. Also, the frequent use of slow motion, the questioning camerawork, unsettling sounds, and cleverly used special effects create a stylistically beautiful work, although it seems to overshadow the story’s ambiguities with its form.

Resolution was able to evoke fear in the viewer, but The Endless settles for a mind-stimulating and suspenseful adventure, reserving authentic fear for a few moments (the tent man episode), which still don’t fit very well into this puzzle. It’s a skillful, intelligent, and still original play, although clearly aimed at uncovering more layers of the world, which even for Aaron and Justin’s cult is something unsettling and not fully understood. Perhaps it should remain that way.