Sometimes you can leave the past behind, but sometimes it catches up with you, dragging you back despite best efforts and intentions. It’s been ten years since Justin got his younger brother Aaron out of the commune where they both lived, what they have now come to think of as “a UFO death cult,” and in the interim they have survived rather than thrived.
Money is tight, opportunities are slim, the car needs a new battery, and the latest curveball life has in store for them drops through the mailbox in the form of an aging recording from the commune indicating that it is still out there despite the brothers having presumed the members had been preparing for a mass suicide, the reason they left.
Against his brother’s advice Aaron wishes to return, Justin rightly concerned that as the younger of the pair the cult may have had a stronger hold over him, that the process of deprogramming may be derailed by a return, that what is proposed as a day and a night may become something much longer.
The Endless directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead from Benson’s script, they also star giving intimate and underplayed performances as the brothers whose lives beyond that supposed haven so empty that they have begun to romanticise it, Justin agreeing to a brief return to confront their past and hopefully break the hold it has over them, intending to debunk the claims they made and show Aaron how all their tricks were smoke and mirrors.
Instead they find the residents of Camp Arcadia apparently healthy and well-adjusted and surprisingly unchanged by the decade that has passed. The brothers invited to participate in festivities which have the aspect of ritual, they are shown things which defy rational thought, objects which defy gravity and strange sights in the sky, and they realise that while this is undeniably a cult it is based on something more than empty words.
An unconventional film which explores the intangible, The Endless is built on a sense of unease and oddness, the hilltop camp under the harsh sun recalling the uncounted hours lost on the Picnic at Hanging Rock, the eerie location populated with bizarre and disturbing totems, the residents of Camp Arcadia and their visitors are helpless witnesses to an enigma which they struggle to incorporate into their worldview.
A fractured fractal Möbius whose opaque premise reminds of Donnie Darko, with images repeating across scenes any comprehension is intuitive rather than analytical, the increasingly desperate and despairing characters trapped in the senseless patterns of their lives like lab rats in an experiment while something incomprehensible remains just out of sight, possibly wonderful, possibly terrifying.
If that power is struggling to understand humanity, testing those it has selected as subjects, how can anything as small and helplessly fragile as a human ever hope to grasp the truth of what it is they are dealing with? How can a lab animal understand the reason it is exposed to chemicals and sent down mazes and subjected to surgery?
Small cogs in a big machine, good people trying to make the best of their situation, there is a desire in the viewer to understand more than what the characters comprehend, the hope that the external vantage point may offer clues beyond what can be seen from within the perspective of the paradox, frustrating as it meanders through the first hour before the tipping sands of the hourglass begin to shift chaotically.
A film from the same challenging school of abstract thought as Another Earth and Sound of My Voice with a dash of Prince of Darkness as the sun sets and the shadows lengthen, the shifting tone of The Endless inevitably loops back around to the dread of the opening quote of H P Lovecraft, perceptive and direct, but far from comforting: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
The Endless is on general release from Friday 29th June and on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday July 2nd