In the early stages of The Endless, the film alludes to a curious yet straightforward narrative with nothing too surprising and the essence that it’s going to be another one of those ‘brothers/friends on the road’ type excursion with self-discovery and all that cliché but, let’s clarify this quickly, I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
The two brothers in this film are Justin (co-director and writer Justin Benson) and Aaron Smith (co-director and cinematographer Aaron Moorhead), a somewhat estranged set of siblings who receive a package that comprises of video tape and a clip of someone they know, as well as a message within in. After watching, they decide to return to the cult-like ‘Camp Arcadia’ they’d left some years before as they’re unhappy with their day-to-day lives, and there’s a suggestion this past is something they want to revisit.
On the journey, they stop at their dead Mother’s roadside grave but, to be honest, this whole moment seems strange as it isn’t clear what the point is, or if there’s any link to a wider context. Initially, I felt it was a lazy backstory to make the audience feel something more for the two brothers but as things progress; this is just a moment in their lives and it’ll have significance.
You see, The Endless is never quite what you think it is is as co-directors Benson and Moorhead create a mysterious creature of an indie movie, one that scuttles in silence behind you, up your back, into your ear and then surreptitiously inside your psyche. What starts off as a straightforward story of two people, who felt lost returning to a place where they once felt safe but had chosen to leave, ends up unravelling and revealing a dark underbelly that subtly tangles around you.
While the story of the two brothers ‘finding themselves’ is a central narrative device, patience is paramount throughout The Endless. Secrets, lies and seemingly natural, but freakish, occurrences begin to take over what we’re watching but it’s so deftly achieved that none of it feels impossible, it’s just unusual. What helps you to immerse is the believable, oddly relatable, performances that focus the increasingly peculiar nature of goings-on.
The Endless is a prime example of attentive storytelling that could lose an audience who like things explained for them. The film holds information back but when it does reveal, it does it with precise, separate pieces that reveal the puzzle. This, in any level of film making, is actually quite a unique trick to pull off and similar in essence to Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, it’s mysterious and endlessly fascinating.
One of the main characters asks “Can you really have any power over yourself, if you give up authority to something else?” and for me, that’s the ultimate enquiry about belief, time, imagination and even the contemplation of your own, every day human doubts. The Endless is an unravelling spiral of mysteries, it’s imaginatively bizarre and wonderfully smart, all in the same loop.