The Endless

Ten years ago, Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) Smith escaped a death cult. The life they made since is about to be changed when they receive a puzzling video tape. Aaron sees the tape as a means to find closure with his past and, with Justin’s grudging agreement, get answers in “The Endless.”

Laura's Review: B

Brothers Justin (Justin Benson) )and Aaron Smith (Aaron Moorhead) are barely scraping by when they receive a videotape in the mail. It features Anna (Callie Hernandez, "Alien: Covenant") at Camp Arcadia, the home of the 'UFO Death Cult' Justin rescued himself and Aaron from ten years earlier. But while both are still in deprogramming sessions, Aaron cannot forget the place he once called home, a place where they had friends, good food and, he thought, safety. Justin believes Anna's talk of 'the ascension' means death while Aaron believes otherwise, but as it is clear their former family may not be around much longer, Justin gives in and agrees to pay a brief visit back in "The Endless." The third feature written by Justin Benson and codirected with Aaron Moorhead ("Spring") is an ambitious undertaking that encompasses an unbalanced brotherly relationship, the safety of staying stuck in a rut versus the risk of leaping into the unknown and the nature of cults all cast against a backdrop of time loops and an unseen forest monster. They lead off with two noteworthy quotes, Lovecraft's 'The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,' and another from an unknown source about friends being willing to talk to each other about things brothers will wait until their deathbeds to discuss. Aaron was too young to fully recognizes the potential dangers of Camp Arcadia and resents the life Justin has forged for them. When he insists the camp was a commune, Justin reminds him of uniforms, redefinition of words, worshipping a deity in the woods, calling death ascension and...castration. 'OK, it's a cult,' admits Aaron, but soon the brothers are passing the entrance to Camp Arcadia, a madly grinning man (David Lawson Jr.) stationed at the gate. They're greeted warmly by Camp leader Hal (Tate Ellington), who immediately offers food to the perpetually hungry Aaron. Shane (Shane Brady) and Anna are happy to see them, Aaron feeling romantic vibes towards the woman who once cared for him. They remember Tim (Lew Temple, "The Devil's Rejects"), the man in charge of brewing the barley into beer from which the camp makes its living and meet new member Lizzy (Kira Powell), who reveals she stayed after escaping a nearby mental facility and speaks of trepanning. That night around the campfire (circular imagery is a constant), Aaron is invited to try The Struggle, pulling a rope that extends into the dark unknown above. Shane, who had spoken of the million hours required for mastery, shows Justin a card trick, then throws a ball into the air, which drops back into Justin's hand after disappearing for an impossible length of time. That night in their bunk beds, Justin reminds Aaron that everyone here looks exactly the same as they did twenty years ago and suggests Anna may be a pedophile. Aaron wishes to stay longer. Things get a lot stranger the next day. Hal confronts Justin about how his public denouncement of the group affected their livelihood and Justin meets a woman (Emily Montague) crying over her missing husband, whom camp members had promised to help her find. But it is the brothers' experiences with time loops, first encountered by Justin on a run when he spies a man from the 1800's continually bashing his head, that lead them to Camp Arcadia's biggest mystery. Benson and Moorhead have done a lot with a little here, the science fiction elements of the film whipped up with out of date technology props, practical effects, editing and imaginative story telling (Justin theorizes that the forest 'deity' is made up of unknown colors unseen by the human eye). One recalls the time 'loopiness' of Nacho Vigalondo's "Timecrimes" and the circular lost in the woods disorientation of "The Blair Witch Project." The film's desert setting, while visually drabber than the Mediterranean coast of "Spring," nonetheless provides a vastness suggesting both eternity and isolation, made weirder by unusual cosmic phenomena and manmade markers. But the brothers' dilemma is the film's least satisfying aspect. As it unfolds here, it feels corny and doesn't enrich the experience as it should. Still, this filmmaking duo is a prime example of limited means sparking creativity and "The Endless" never tips its hand towards its final destination. Grade:

Robin's Review: B-

Directors-stars Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, using the script by Benson, have a good sci-fi, alien visitation, death cult story that benefits from the chemistry, behind the camera, between the co-helmers. There is a tantalizing draw to the story about two brothers taken in by a “commune,” at a young age, following the death of their mother in a nearby car accident. Much later, elder brother Justin takes Aaron from what he tells the press is a death cult when they re-emerge in the normal world. Now, they run a small cleaning company and going nowhere. Then, the tape arrives. This begins, at first, a road movie about two brothers trying to find closure with a very strange past life. Their remembrances of that life are mainly seen through Justin’s recall – that they were in an alien-led death cult and Justin saved their lives. Aaron, after seeing the tape, decides to go back to the commune with his protective brother in tow to get to the truth about their past. Once back at Camp Arcadia, they are welcomed with open arms by commune leader Hal (Tate Ellington) and the rest of members to their utopia. But, there are strange things going on with various circles – birds circling, fire pit circles, totem circles - growing in importance but with a darkly sinister, alien-manipulating edge. There seems to be a monster lurking around the camp and the filmmakers play this with sparing details. The special effects are more of the psychological nature, with nothing evil shown clearly but its presence always pervading. But, Camp Arcadia is just one of the surrounding places that may be caught in an alien designed time loop. There are multiple loops that the brothers see and fear they will be caught, forever, in one. A score card is needed to keep track of all the multiple time loops and the involved characters, distracting me at different moments from the crux of the tale. Still, a good yarn.