Cosmic Horror and Brotherly Love in ‘The Endless’

Having siblings is difficult, to say the least. You love each other, but that doesn’t come without conflict. A lot of it. They steal your clothes, rat you out to your parents, break your stuff, and blame you for their problems. What could make that worse? The trauma of living in and escaping a UFO death cult. This is the scenario brothers Justin and Aaron find themselves in Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s newest film, The Endless.

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Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson in The Endless (2017)

A decade after their escape, the brothers are living together in the real world. But it isn’t easy. They are barely scraping by at their cleaning jobs and previously being part of a UFO death cult isn’t helping them in the dating department. In separate interviews with who is assumedly a social worker, both brothers reveal their issues with the other. To Aaron, played by co-director Aaron Moorhead, his older brother is too bossy and demanding. To Justin, played by co-director Justin Benson, it is exhausting to keep taking care of his baby brother. To add to this stress, a mysterious videotape arrives on their doorstep, which sends them back to the cult’s settlement, Camp Arcadia. This sets off a life-altering chain of events where they come to learn that the cult may have been right all along. Saying any more would spoil the film’s bizarre and delightful twists.

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Justin Benson in The Endless (2017)

What I will say is that this is a deserving entry into the Lovecraftian, cosmic horror genre. Benson and Moorhead take the themes of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft – unnamable monsters, unanswered questions, hopelessness – and create a modern interpretation that deftly weaves cosmic horror and relationship drama together into something emotional and anxiety-inducing. It is Lovecraftian without being too focused on the mysterious extraterrestrial – or interdimensional – being. The monster is never seen but its presence is always felt, an oppressive figure that you can almost feel floating over you.

That oppressive tension is amplified by the pale yellows and browns that pervade each scene, creating a feeling of hot boredom, the kind you feel when waiting for something exciting to happen on your summer break. But what Camp Arcadia is waiting for is something more sinister than the ice cream truck.  

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Benson and Moorhead are also able to capture and portray the minutiae of brotherhood, perhaps because they have been working together for so long. From fighting about who will drive the car to ordering the other to go to sleep, their relationship vaguely reminded me of my own brothers’. But more than the quarrels, they depict the sacrifices siblings are willing to make for each other.

The films of Benson and Moorhead consistently weave relationship drama and cosmic horror together, and The Endless is no exception. Their previous films, Spring and Resolution, deal with similar themes of fixing relationships in the face of an unknown doom. But that doom is never the film’s true focus. These are supernatural dramas that use horror as a backdrop to help develop relationships between people. The Endless is not a film about a cult – it’s a film about brothers who just so happen to have to encounter a cult to realize how much they need each other. 

The Endless is about the lies we tell ourselves, and sometimes others, to survive. It is a perfect film for those itching for more Lovecraftian, cosmic horror that isn’t too literal or over the top, like recent films such as The Void. It is a horror film for those less inclined to jump scares and gore, and who like a more atmospheric, cerebral horror. Benson and Moorhead have created another admirable indie horror film that illustrates the love we have for one another, no matter the seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Instead of using horror to merely maim and destroy, they use it to bring people together.

 

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