Monday, 2 July 2018

The Endless (2017) Quick Review - Let's Do the Time-Warp Again

When it comes to cosmic horror, there are two ways in can go. It could focus on viscera, showcasing slimy amorphous bodies that represent the clientele of Spearmint Rhino. Or a cosmic horror story could be filled with mind melting concepts and uncaring movings of nature; things like temporal paradoxes, extradimensional shenanigans, and being worried about how you’re going to explain to your kid why those two men are holding hands.

The Endless looked as though it was going land firmly in the former category. Which, in turn, got me excited: I like my Lovecraftian horror with creatures so horrible it takes 50 adjectives to describe them. Not that I don’t enjoy the existential nightmare side of cosmic horror. I think once you’re old enough to realise life is a relentless parade of misery, full-time work, and paying bills, you’re certainly in the right mind to appreciate soul crushing horror.

But I'll be honest: on my first watch, I was somewhat underwhelmed with The Endless. And that's a damn shame, given just how much promise the set-up shows. Brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) receive a mysterious videotape, which prompts them to revisit a UFO-obsessed death cult they escaped from ten years ago. Considering they're the sort of losers who can't hold down a proper job and reveal their cult past to girls during a first date, this probably isn't a bad option.

When they arrive at the cult's 'commune', they discover that not only are the cult all still alive but they're rather welcoming and affable towards the traitors. Particularly leader Hal (Tate Ellington) who is akin to that one overly enthused work colleague you just want to punch. This cult is seemingly less Charles Mason and Jonestown, and more how Scientology likes to imagine itself. Aaron especially falls for the charms of the cult. Or, to be accurate, the charms of cult member Anna (Callie Hernandez): she's like one of those Christianity recruiters who gives off the air that she'll definitely shag you if you sign up, but really she knows full well that bastard God is in full cockblocking mode. 

Straight away we're given clues that something isn't right in this place. The people look younger than they should be, unnatural phenomena - such as duel moons, alien physics, and strange illusions - become increasingly apparent, and there's a sense of some large presence at work. The brothers begin to question their beliefs as it becomes obvious there is definitely something to the cult's insane ideology of lunar alignments, ascension, and temporal rebirth. Oh Christ, if they make a sequel Tom Cruise will probably want to be in it.

The Endless is a prime example of a low budget, good script, decent cast, and well crafted directing, coming together to make something far more enthralling than the latest Marvel film with a budget in the millions. Benson and Moorhead, who also handle writing and directing duties, certainly have the chops for this kind of cerebral cosmic horror. They also wrote and directed 2012's Resolution, a film with similar themes which I haven't seen but is highly rated. I'd say being familiar with Benson and Moorhead's work is advisable because then you'd know what to expect from The Endless.

Benson and Moorhead make effective use of what they have. America's desert wildernesses always make effective backdrops for movies about cults. As well as being visually striking, something about them also captures the mystery and nihilism of the story. One particularly effective scene, for example, sees the cult out in the desert at night performing a ritual they call 'The Struggle'. And no, that's not attempting to fit into your jeans after Christmas dinner (that one's called 'The Impossible').

Instead they have a rope tied to something unseen, cloaked by the night vale, and the individual has to pull the rope. It's a culty brainwashing exercise which Justin cynically dismisses as fake. However, it's clear that something unearthly is on the other end of the rope. We never see what is on the other end exactly, but it's such an simple and effective image that utilises the less-is-more approach.

The Endless is low budget horror done right. However, if, like me, you watched the trailer and came into the experience expecting some truly horrifying Lovecraftian shenanigans to go down, then you're going to be more disappointed than the average England fan post-Tuesday evening. The Endless aligns itself closer to films such as Stalker, Prometheus, and Annhilation in that the primary villain is the universe's lack of fucks for humanity. Not too dissimilar to The Conservative Party, really.

It's a character piece really. Justin is the flawed hero of the story, wanting to protect his brother from the unknown, even if he himself clearly wants to believe. His actions are understandable, even though his desire to protect his brother from a life of misery and captivity means forcing them both in a limp life of misery without control. Aaron, on the other hand, represents the comfort offered by religious delusion. Given the choice between a dissatisfying life with no control, and a life with the illusion of control and comfort, he is all too willing to be absorbed back into the cult.

As for the cult themselves, they're actually well rounded and perfectly realised. They tow the line between sinister Stepford smiler and the sort of hipster hippies who'd sell avocados out of their vintage Volkswagen van.

The film's story is difficult to unravel, but then that comes with the turf. As it goes on, less emphasis is placed on the malevolent Eldritch antagonist, which in the end is eternal life in a hippy commune so bad? Think about this though: everyone in this remote patch of American desert is caught up in an endless loop - subject to the whims of something that's either a gigantic incomprehensible-to-the-point-of-being-invisible Elder God, or the damn cosmos itself. Which is, perhaps, the best take on the depressing 9-5 grind since Dolly Parton. One guy, some early twentieth-century explorer, is caught up in a 7 second loop of perpetual death. Brutal.

But what doesn't make sense is if the cult are caught up in this ritualised ten year loop, how did Justin and Aaron escape? They're clearly not young children when they escape. It's probably the sort of thing not worth thinking about, like the thought at the edge of your mind that your parents definitely had sex at least once.

Enjoyed this piece? Then leave a comment and share it about. Also, follow Iron on FacebookGoogle Plus and Twitter to stay up to date. Stalker.