I caught THE ENDLESS at SUFF yesterday, and it gives me great pleasure to report that those indie mavericks Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have done it again. Following hot on the heels of RESOLUTION and SPRING, the boys are now three-for-three. The screening began with one of their signature personalised video intros, and I have to say that as well as being some of the most exciting genre filmmakers on the scene, these guys are pretty charming too.
THE ENDLESS opens by introducing us to Justin and Aaron (played by the directors, reprising characters seen in a brief cameo in 2012's RESOLUTION), two brothers who are eking out a meagre living in Los Angeles, ten years after escaping together from a rural death cult. The arrival of a mysterious video tape reveals that the mass-suicide they thought they were escaping never happened, and that the idyllic lifestyle in the cult's camp has continued on without them. Aaron, depressed and dissatisfied with his post-cult existence, finds himself pining for the good old days of his childhood in Camp Arcadia, much to the annoyance of his older, more cynical brother. He wants to revisit the camp, to find some kind of closure, and despite Justin's protests, the trip is starting to look inevitable.
Far more of an overt sequel to RESOLUTION than I was expecting, THE ENDLESS expands on that film's examination of the closed-loop, eternally repeating nature of storytelling (from cave paintings to digital media) and ramps it up to 11. As a fan of RESOLUTION, it's very satisfying to see all the links to that film play out here, as a succession of returning characters, themes and locations. However, where the first film had a visually minimalist approach (due largely to budgetary limitations), this quasi-sequel is bursting at the seams with vividly realised imagery that is arcane, eldritch and often horrifying. It's truly breathtaking to behold, and will make your head spin. THE ENDLESS is certainly one of the most successful visual representations of Lovecraft's "unknowable" universe that has ever been put to film. And as with their last film, SPRING, the fx here are for the most part very impressive on such a low budget.
As to what all this esoteric weirdness means, my interpretation is that the Three-Act structure of cinema, and storytelling in general, is a mirror for our dust to dust existence. As with stories, our lives can be seen as a closed loop (beginning, middle and end), endlessly repeating, the same cradle to grave cycle, told again and again, down the long aeons of evolution. You can quit your little loop if you want (suicide), but it won't stop the inexorable repetition of all the virtually identical lives that will follow yours.
Honestly though, I walked out of yesterday's screening feeling pretty bewildered. I rewatched RESOLUTION last week, after which I felt like I had a better grasp of its serpentine concepts than before, but a lot of that went out the window yesterday. And I'm fine with that. As I surrendered myself to THE ENDLESS' deep dive, it felt like the foundation of understanding that I took into the theatre with me was shifting and being eroded beneath me, an unsettling feeling that I think may be a big part of Benson and Moorhead's intent. To give the viewer a dizzying sense of vertigo as they peer into a Lovecraftian abyss of the unknowable, indescribable and truly alien.