Boy, do we love a mystery, a “puzzle picture.”
Feed us an “Inception” or “Lost” or “Stranger Things,” and it’s as if the Internet was invented with the sole purpose to crowd-sourcing a solution. Not everybody has to be into it, not everyone “gets” it, and that’s part of the appeal, what makes a “cult film” like “The Endless” so “culty.”
Filmmakers and co-stars Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have concocted a sci-fi/horror meditation on eternity, purgatory or any number of other “solutions” to this puzzle of a cult where escape, getting un-“stuck,” only seems like a possibility.
They play brothers named Aaron and Justin, young men struggling to get by in housecleaning jobs in L.A., lost and lonely with only each other for connection and company.
But Aaron remembers when they weren’t in this rut. Back before they escaped the Camp Arcadia cult, they had purpose, family, good health and stimulation. Now? A video tape from the camp’s still-resident sex symbol (Callie Hernandez) has him pining for the past.
Justin? He’s the one who “got us out,” the one who figures a mass suicide is coming, any day now.
“It’s a UFO Death Cult. It’s what they do!”
Aaron talks him into a return visit, and everybody there goes out of his or her way to welcome them. Sure, there was humiliating media coverage of their escape, and their descriptions of a “UFO Death Cult” hurt sales of the Camp/Farm’s one product (beer).
“Everything you did ranges from ‘I don’t care’ to ‘forgiven,’” asserts leader Hal (Tate Ellington).
The food is still good, the entertainment still homemade, the residents a blend of the seemingly sane and the definitely not. The artist Lizzy (Kira Powell) says she recently slipped away from a mental hospital. And the stuff she draws? Disturbing.
A day and a night of hanging with the Arcadians allow “the family” to remake its case to the brothers, who grew up there. There are flirtations, coercive debates and what seem like magic tricks.
Justin hangs on to his skepticism, but for no reason we can logically reason out, he lets Aaron talk him into prolonging their stay. A jog to “the border” of the camp (marked with gnarled, leprous looking posts) spooks him. A couple of the “magic tricks” and weird phenomena rattle him.
And a dive into the on-site lake convinces Justin there’s “something down there.”
Will he make a break for it? Can he drag Aaron out, again, or is his sibling too far gone this time? His brother thinks “I dragged him out of here for no reason” way back when.
Now, with the lousy, limited lives they’re leading in L.A., groupthink and belonging to something bigger than yourself seems like a better option.
And is Justin’s previous escape route even open?
The Family speaks of “the struggle,” which is what Aaron seems to want to get away from, the struggle just to get by, belong, meet somebody who shares his interests.
But Justin? He’s a hard-sell, a believer in Free Will. You’re not going to get to him by joking around.
“You mind if we get a little culty in here?”
The film dawdles in getting around to its Big Mystery and the suspense that entails. And the leads, while perfectly believable as siblings connected by blood, love and maybe a bit of the same skepticism, seriously under-react when extraordinary things start happening.
Most of the energy here when into cooking up the Mobius Strip plot and creating some H.P. Lovecraft-worthy effects — swarming, portentous crows, multiple moons in the heavens, a vast mostly-unseen beast just beyond visual comprehension.
Their very existence seems “stuck,” and all around the camp, lives are trapped in what looks like a skipping video disc or repeating, broken tape “loop.”
As a movie, it’s somewhat fascinating on that “fear of the unknown” level (a Lovecraft quote opens the movie) and somewhat less riveting as a thriller. The leads had a lot on their minds. Amping up each other’s fear factor in their performances to make them convincingly afraid-for-their-lives, gobsmacked by what appears to be the supernatural and “trapped by the unknown” appears to have been low on the list of priorities.
The mystery is more intriguing than the movie is alarming.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity
Cast:Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez
Credits:Directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, script by Justin Benson. A Well Go release.
Running time: 1:51