Sometimes I encounter little movies in the need of more attention, and “The Endless” is one of such cases. While it works as an engaging drama about two brothers struggling with their past, this small film is also quite intriguing with its increasingly ominous atmosphere and a number of memorable moments you have to see for yourself. During my viewing, I found myself quite impressed by its mood and storytelling, and it surely surprised me in the end while also generating some poignancy during its haunting finale.
Directors/writers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who also worked as co-producers and co-editors for their film, play Justin and Aaron Smith, two brothers who left a cult many years ago but still cannot wholly adjust themselves to the outside world. While they earn their living through a cleaning job, their life has been going nowhere to their frustration, and Justin becomes worried as Aaron comes to miss those old days in that cult. According to what Justin said during a TV interview not long after they left the cult, its members believed in UFO and were going to commit suicide for ‘ascension’ someday, and it looks like Justin did a right thing for both him and his younger brother at that time.
On one day, a package is delivered to their residence. It contains a shabby video tape which shows Anna (Callie Hernandez), one of the cult members, and that tape makes Aaron think more about what he remembers about the cult. As far as he remembers, he was happy and safe as he and his brother were taken care of by the cult members after their mother’s unfortunate death, but Justin says that his memories of that time are not that accurate. Unlike Aaron, he wants to stay away from their past as much as he can, even though he is confused and frustrated with the outside world as much as Aaron.
Anyway, Aaron only becomes more determined to visit the cult for getting any kind of closure, and Justin reluctantly agrees to join Aaron for protecting and helping his younger brother. They drive to a remote rural place where the cult members are still residing, and Justin is surprised to see that Anna, Hal (Tate Ellington), and many other cult members are living fairly well without much change. They all greet Justin and Aaron warmly, and Aaron is soon drawn more to his old world, but Justin remains skeptical and watchful for Aaron as it seems there is something unnatural about the cult members, who mostly look happy and contented but also look rather suspicious from time to time.
Furthermore, Justin and Aaron come to notice strange things happening in the area surrounding the cult community. For example, there is a weird grumpy guy who keeps walking around here and there in the area, and we come to wonder more about what the hell he is doing. During their first evening in the cult, Justin and Aaron come to participate in a simple but bizarre game involved with a rope, and we later get a rather spooky moment when Justin notices a really strange thing in the sky.
As he and his younger brother come to stay in the cult more than expected, Justin becomes more convinced that they must get out as soon as possible, but Aaron thinks differently. Feeling comfortable and relaxed, he begins to consider staying in the cult, and he also finds himself attracted to Anna. Although she is technically quite older than him, she remains same as before just like Hal and other cult members, and there is a nice intimate moment when she and Aaron come to have a little private time together outside at one night.
And weird things keep happening around Aaron and Justin. At one point, Justin is instructed to get to the bottom of a nearby lake for finding whatever is waiting for him, and the movie does a good job of slowly dialing up the level of tension during that seemingly quiet scene. Later in the movie, we get a morbidly amusing moment associated with that weird grumpy guy, and there is also an eerie moment involved with a mysterious tent which seems to be harboring some terrible secret.
While I am not sure about whether I understand everything in the movie, I admire what Benson and Moorhead achieved here in this film. After effectively establishing the realistic mood around their main characters, they gradually accumulate the gloomy sense of dread on the screen, and Moorhead, who also served as the cinematographer of the movie, provides some excellent visual moments to be appreciated. Although the special effects of the movie look a little cheap, they are efficiently utilized for intended dramatic effects, and the result is often quite striking.
Moorehead and Benson are convincing in their plain but effective performance. As watching them on the screen, we can sense the close relationship between their characters, and they are constantly interesting to watch as their characters pull or push each other throughout the film. The supporting performers surrounding them are also solid in their respective roles, and Callie Hernandez and Tate Ellington deserve to be praised for handling well their rather tricky characters.
In short, “The Endless”, which was released in US early in this year although it was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in last year, is a small under-appreciated gem you should not miss. After watching it at last night, I came to reflect more on its story and characters, and I was reminded again of how appropriate its title is in several aspects. Not many movies can do that, you know.