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John’s Horror Corner: The Endless (2017), a science fiction “cult movie” with more ideas than follow-through and not enough Cthulhu.

September 16, 2018

MY CALL: Having absolutely loved Spring (2014), I was stoked to see anything by Moorhead and Benson. This film opens with much promise and introduces cool ideas that felt largely unexplored—leaving me largely disappointed. Also, to be fair, this is much more a mystery/Sci-Fi movie than horror, despite some indications of a powerful (perhaps evil and perhaps monstrous) force. MOVIES LIKE The Endless: Spring (2014; podcast discussion) was a wonderful horror-romance from the same filmmakers. For more cult movies I’d suggest Faults (2014), The Leftovers (2014-2017), The Sound of My Voice (2011), The Sacrament (2014) and The House of the Devil (2009).

“Mankind’s fear of the unknown is easily our greatest fear.”

With a subtle flair for contemporizing the concepts of H. P. Lovecraft, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (co-directors of Spring and the “Bonestorm” segment of V/H/S: Viral) team up once again and co-star as brothers, bringing credible sibling idiosyncrasies ranging from protectiveness to quibbling banter. This films lacks the warm elegance and tactful simplicity of Spring (2014), but that may be a consequence of its pursuit to capture broader and more complicated science-fiction concepts. However I view it, I feel they bit off more than they could chew, leaving both the storytelling and character development in its wake.

Deprogrammed “UFO death cult” survivors Aaron (Moorhead) and Justin (Benson) struggle on a daily basis to find normalcy, not just in terms of finding friends and steady work, but even in how they relate to one another. Justin misses the comforts of the “commune” and wants to return (to visit his old cult friends), remembering the positive aspects of it all; whereas Aaron recalls darker components of their former community. As if the ice they skated wasn’t thin enough already, they receive a sort of “goodbye, World” video from the cult members which stokes their curiosity… and so they return… just to visit.

Their return brings welcome smiles and warm embraces. It’s unassumingly pleasant, like an adult summer camp where everyone plays games, gets along, drinks homebrew ales made from their own organic farm… everyone seems pleasant and happy and warm-hearted. Among the cultists are Anna (Callie Hernandez; Alien: Covenant), Hal (Tate Ellington; Sinister 2), Shane (Shane Brady; Spring, V/H/S: Viral), Tim (Lew Temple; The Walking Dead, House, Halloween), Jennifer (Emily Montague; Fright Night), Michael (Peter Cilella; Contracted: Phase II), and many others.

Time spent at the commune arouses curious revelations. How did Shane do that magic trick that seemed far too real for any stage illusionist to pull off? What are they hiding in the padlocked shed? What is it everyone is waiting for? What’s with the double moon illusion in the night sky? And why the Hell does no one seem to have any knowledge of the “goodbye, World” video they sent them? Yet still Aaron and Justin stay a day, and then another, and another… as if their desire to learn more surpassed their reasons for escaping in the first place. But as their stay lengthens, so does their understanding of the truths they weren’t yet ready to see before.

This film started out strong and but seemed to lose steam with each (of numerous) attempt to explain its stacked-up mysteries and with each new character lecturing the meanings of things. I feel like this film just tried to do too many things too many different ways through the dialogue of too many characters such that synthesis was sacrificed in the choppiness. The storytelling and acting started out great, but ended up feeling like a SyFy original series. I feel they needed to go the more obscure route of Primer (2004) or Predestination (2014) for this to work—i.e., fewer characters, fewer spoken explanations, and just enough clues to infer what (may have) happened over a few beers after viewing the film.

It’s hard to recommend this one unless you’re already a fan of Moorhead and Benson. I loved the first part, liked the middle part, and really just spent the third act waiting for it to end. For me, the value in this journey is more about the dynamic between the two brothers—even though that sort of fell apart. Just too many characters and too much “talking” about it all. I expected head-scratching cosmic revelations that would make me stream Neil deGrasse Tyson discussions. Instead, I got “meh.”

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