The Endless’ primary theme is that of the unknown. From the get-go and throughout we’re treated to a boatload of lovely, tantalising ‘unknown’ in this deeply unsettling horror mystery. This film was directed and produced by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead who also star as ‘Justin’ and ‘Aaron’: two brothers who both grew up in the isolated cult community of ‘Arcadia’ before escaping ten years prior to the start of the film. However, after receiving an old video tape they find themselves being drawn back in search of answers!
A lot about the cult is left ambiguous, earlier on Justin fills the younger Aaron with notions that abide towards a traditional ‘cult-like’ setting, Aaron is disenfranchised, nostalgic and idealistic about the cult. He longs for a sense of community and place, earlier mentioning his frustrations at a lack of friends and or romantic relationships. To him, he idealises his life in Arcadia, and despite his lack of cohesive memories regarding it he warmly reminisces that there he felt happy. Justin, on the other hand, is far more sceptical about the place, he is cynical and parental towards his brother but, in addition, also authoritative and dictatorial towards him.
Upon arriving we, the viewer, are led to believe the Aaron’s idealised version, however there is an underlying tension and discomfort, there’s something unsettling about Arcadia. And when the brothers join the cult in partaking in a ritual game, we are given our first hint at something not quite natural. A beastly and strange force that constantly watches over the community yet we are never actually told as to what it is, a running motif that cements the horror.
The film alludes heavily Lovecraftian horror (the film itself opening on a Lovecraft quote), for instance the camp leader speculates that the mysterious force cannot be seen due to being made up of “impossible colours” invisible to the human eye – a clear reference to Lovecraft’s 1927 book The Colour out of Space. It plays on the horror of the unknown, ‘unspeakable horrors’ and that of which we cannot possible comprehend, such is what owes to this film’s deep underlying unsettling nature.
It’s clever, insightful and nothing feels out of place. Strangely, for a film that revels in the unknown every event and character that takes place makes sense, for instance within the film’s opening scenes the younger brother receives texts from his brother demanding to buy a new car battery, to which he doesn’t get around to purchasing and, later on, the older brother’s car fails to start because of the aforementioned battery. I enjoyed this, because many, many horror films cheaply utilise the ‘car not starting’ trope. Everything’s set up accordingly and is lovingly given a suitable execution, this payoff always feels really satisfying when it suddenly clicks and you realise how it was pre-established. In addition to this, there’s a good bit of foreboding (which I adore), namely through the prevalent usage of the song ‘House of the Rising Sun’ which, lyrically, often lines up to the protagonist’s plight. It was little touches like that that made this film worth watching.
Overall, this is a damn good film. I went into this completely blind and, let me say, it exceeded my expectations. Justin and Aaron played their characters in a grounded and believable manner, their depiction as brothers felt genuine and real. In regard to the grounded nature of the film it was definitely impressive to see how, despite the growing chaos and inexplicability of the film it never once felt over the top – hats off to these gents, I say. Hence, I’ll probably go back and try and find more from Justin and Aaron, I did a quick search and apparently, they have a history of working together, namely the film Resolution and work on the anthology horror VHS: Viral so go check out The Endless, it’s on Netflix and it’s a smart yet great horror!
4 out of 5