Small budgets can inspire tremendous end products as it forces the filmmakers to become increasingly creative to make their film feel authentic, complete, and worthy of our attention. The Endless checks all those boxes. Detailed plot points are at a premium here, and while it’s easy to worry that it’s a recipe for failure in filmmaking, that limited attention paid to what is happening and why helps increase an atmosphere of anxiety and unease that propels the story forward.
Two brothers who have escaped the UFO doomsday cult they grew up in and are now living in the real world. One of the brothers, the younger of the two, Aaron, was too young to remember all of what happened at the camp and is feeling trapped by the banalities of everyday life. Justin resists his brother’s attempts to return to Camp Arcadia, but when a mysterious package with a tape recording of a member of the cult telling anyone who sees not to worry about where they are going, Justin cannot resist Aaron any longer and they set off to return. When they arrive, they find that everyone they had left is still at the camp, living content, happy, and to Justin, unbelievably happy lives. Everything appears normal.
That is perhaps the greatest trick of The Endless, the appearance of things constantly puts forth the image of normality, but in effect makes everything we see questionable. Everything and nothing is as it seems, we are meant to both accept and question the environment of the camp, and that odd parallel makes for a tense, eerie, and engrossing thriller. Elements of time, space, and reality are played with for unique effect, often taking cues from other time bending pictures such as Looper or Groundhog Day.
Directing partners Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who also play the brothers of the same names, make sure to never leap into copy-cat territory in large part by having the heart of the story fall on the relationship between these two men. All of the performances here are quite strong, particularly Tate Ellington as Hal, who keeps saying he isn’t the leader of the cult, because there is no leader, and yet continues to exemplify manipulative tactics on both Justin and Andrew for the camp’s gain.
Ultimately though the film success falls on the Smith brother’s shoulders and Justin’s skepticism and Aaron’s blind enthusiasm for his surroundings play well against each other and both performers succeed in showcasing the conflict that exists between them but also the love and admiration for one another. This strong implementation of character is crucial when arriving at the third act where the truths received are bizarre and strange in vague, yet, interpretable terms. Every viewer is going to come to terms with the truths of this narrative in different ways and in this case, that will make for some very intriguing conversation and debate; a result I believe Justin and Aaron had been yearning for.