‘The Endless’ Review: Thought Provoking Surreal Horror

Ten years ago two brothers left a suicide cult. Now they’ve received a mysterious video that not only reveals that the mass suicide did not take place but that the “ascension” may be yet to come. The younger brother, Aaron, wants to go back as he only has fond memories of the cult, much to the chagrin of older brother Justin who believes he rescued them both from certain death. He relents and they return to the woods where their perceptions of the cult, and reality, are challenged.

The first half of The Endless is dedicated to building an atmosphere of unease. Traditional jump-scare opportunities are subverted, leaving the tension unbroken as the men explore the camp and surrounding woods. The film makers create an intriguing mystery which is then revealed to have a fairly satisfying explanation. I typically prefer for horror movies to leave its mysteries exactly that, but the revelation that comes somewhere near the midpoint of the film offers a whole new perspective on the woods and its inhabitants. There are some very troubling implications of this dark secret.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead direct and star in the film (with Benson also serving as screenwriter), and do an extraordinary job of both. As actors they have a believable and enjoyable chemistry. The film also features a great deal of unknown actors and regulars of the directors’ work, all of whom are perfectly natural and affecting. The cult members are effortlessly strange but incredibly charming. There’s a realistic feel to the dialogue reminiscent of Shane Carruth’s Primer (appropriately enough).

The aesthetic of the film is gorgeous. The low budget of the production only becomes apparent during the dramatic conclusion. Benson and Moorhead utilise the lack of resources by keeping the mysterious forces unseen and the strange incidents understated. This makes the occurrences much more mysterious and threatening. The morphing wilderness and unusual depth of focus recalls Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England or Von Trier’s Antichrist. There’s a very definite folk horror feeling to the proceedings, but with a psychedelic flare.

Benson and Moorhead have explored similar themes in their previous film, Resolution, which makes for a wonderful companion piece to The Endless. Having also directed the excellent Spring, one can only hope that The Endless will be the cult hit that finally launches the duo into the mainstream.

The Endless is a film that will not yield all of its delights on first viewing. It’s a dense, Lovecraftian puzzle of a film with a very human heart. It deserves to be seen on the big screen by anyone who loves the genre.

4.5 / 5

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