My movie backlog was exceptionally deep and I decided I'd finally get around to watching something and maybe writing about it. MediaGauntlet has been dead for years, no one particularly caring about it when it was alive, but it's still sitting here, taking up space on a hard drive in a data center somewhere, so I might as well do something with it.
I jumped onto Netflix and scrolled through the long list of things that I add and then never bother to actually watch because I'm too busy lazily watching YouTube videos and decaying, physically and mentally. I had seen the trailer for The Endless before it ever came out and, here I was, finally watching it, over three years later. It might not have happened had I not seen a trailer the other day for Synchronic, an upcoming film also directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Looking over their IMDb pages, I was introduced to the trailers for their films Resolution and Spring and I was reminded that I should finally get around to watching this film.
Now, it was fortunate that I did watch the trailer for Resolution first and understood its basic outline, as The Endless is actually a sequel in many ways to that film. Perhaps not directly, but it features the exact characters and situations from the previous film, so it probably would have been good to watch it first and wish someone had mentioned that to me. So I'm telling you. If you haven't seen this yet and are interested, run over to Amazon first, as Resolution is currently free on Prime Video.
As for the movie itself, I was prepared for much of it by the trailer I vaguely remember seeing what seems like a lifetime ago. Some weird visuals, a confusing plot perhaps, and an obviously low-budget indie sensibility to it.
It starts off with the failing relationship of brothers Justin and Aaron (played by the namesake directors, who saved money by playing the leads themselves), lost for the past decade in the normal world of the daily urban grind after escaping from a cult. We learn bits about the cult and their experiences within it over the course of the entire movie. There's no exposition drops and the movie starts out slow, focusing on the characters' interpersonal relationships, their despair, their differing attitudes about the commune life they left behind, and the friction between them. For a while, it lulls you into the false sense that it's going to end up being an indie drama about interpersonal familial relationships wrapped up in the guise of being a weird and eerie horror(-adjacent) movie. Fortunately, that assumption is quickly abandoned after they receive a mysterious video tape and take a road trip back to the cult's summer-camp-like compound to see what's become of them all after a decade away. Though, at first glance, a lot of dread is built up with sound effects, score, and slow-motion footage of fairly mundane activity in a way that makes you wonder if anything really is going on under the hood of the film beyond the surface level. In fact, the first hour makes you question if anything is really going on or if the brothers are the strange ones here; the movie keeps telling you something is off, but you see no evidence of that for a long time.
After that first hour, it peels off the facade and begins laying out details of the strange mythos behind the scenes of what we've witnessed so far. Details are handed out to Justin, the character the audience is most likely to identify with, not as just conjecture or theories about what is happening, but in a strangely factual way that flies in the face of the average horror movie's attempt to hand-wave away details in the name of spookiness.
As for the actual spookiness, I could not tell you. I am somehow congenitally affected in such a way that I am not scared of anything; beyond events intended to startle you in movies, psychological attempts at fear are completely lost on me. I mostly just focus on the story, the aesthetics, the acting, the filmmaking choices.
For all of those qualities, the movie does a lot with very little money. The actors are all good, naturalistic, somewhat understated at times, but ultimately very believable. The film looks very good for what must have been spent on it. The few effects shots work well and don't overplay their hand. (Though you wonder what this movie would have been if they had been given an unlimited budget. What more would have been shown?) The angles, the drone shots, the color palette all look more substantial than the little movie should have managed.
I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the movie has a strangely uplifting ending for this type of film. Of course, I'm not sure what my point of comparison for that really is. The family-drama-turned-nightmare of Hereditary? (People would consider most other things to be uplifting.) But I wasn't really expecting it to maintain a plot about familial relationships and the focus on the friction between brothers with opposing views on their lives after the horror elements revealed themselves. Perhaps that why the writer/director team is still working on bigger and bigger projects and critically lauded for just about everything they've done.
The film hits the sweet spot for writing, length, development, mystery, and atmosphere. It isn't going to change your life or send you rushing off to tell your friends about what you just watched, but it's a strong and well-crafted film, not just another Lovecraft homage via John Carpenter's The Thing.