Thoughtful, resourceful, and eerie, The Endless does cosmic horror on a budget, with both real ambiguity and real characterization. It’s a kind of sequel/side-squel to the film Resolution, but I would actually recommend seeing The Endless first and then backtracking. There’s probably no bad way, though: the way the two movies interlock is genuinely neat and unusual, and while neither is necessary to the other, they both benefit from being paired up.
The Endless concentrates on two brothers, Justin and Aaron (played by co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead). Years ago, as children, the two spent time in a place called Camp Arcadia, which may have been a cult or possibly just a hippie-dippy commune. Justin, the more cynical and assertive brother, firmly believes it was the former, and he believes he did the right thing by getting them out by whatever means necessary. Aaron isn’t so sure, especially since their lives in the outside world are dreary; they live hand-to-mouth and have trouble making connections. They’re cleaning houses and subsisting mostly on instant ramen. Meanwhile, the Camp Arcadia Aaron remembers offered a caring community and tons of natural beauty. When he gets a video from the group, he insists that they go back for a short visit–one that he will keep stretching out, basking in the sense of serenity while Justin sees danger signs everywhere.
Because things at Camp Arcadia are strange and haunting, right alongside all the genuine compassion and interest its followers offer. People haven’t aged. They get mysterious messages that appear as videotapes, locked in a metal box and submerged in the lake. The camp members play tug-of-war, and the other end of the rope lifts up into the sky, almost impossibly high. There are answers here–sort of–but the rules of the phenomena remain, perhaps fairly, a little ill-defined; this is definitely horror inflected with science fiction, not simply science fiction in its own right. The movie saves its thorough working-out not for its physics but for its characters, carefully filling Arcadia and its surroundings with people who respond to this unnatural force in different and revealing ways.
And throughout it all, there’s Justin’s panic and Aaron’s conviction and all the torn love between them–Justin fears Arcadia, Aaron is drawn to it, and they both love each other too much (despite some very real resentments) for it to be easy for them to just go their separate ways. Once, Aaron left for Justin’s sake. Now, on their return, things might turn out differently. And the movie maintains that emotional tension until the end, providing several memorable setpieces along the way. It may not be perfect, but it’s a powerful and creative testament to the range of low-budget filmmaking.*
The Endless is streaming free on Amazon Prime.
* Almost impossibly, it even makes me forgive Benson and Moorhead for directing “8,” one of the worst episodes of the never-really-good 2019 Twilight Zone. Eh, at least they didn’t write it. This, on the other hand, would be a great Twilight Zone episode.