When I watched the trailer for The Endless I was immediately intrigued and enthralled. Two brothers return to the mysterious UFO-obsessed cult they escaped in the desert over a decade ago, only to discover that the strange supernatural force they call “It”—which the cult admires and fears—is perhaps only too real after all. But five minutes into the film I felt the curiosity ebb away as mild disappointment slowly took its place.
In what could best be described as the feel and look of a fading, pastel colour palette and tinged kens burn of a recognisably “student film” (hello, iMovie), The Endless was both anti-climactic and commendable. While the directors (who also play the lead actors), Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead, have written a truly original and confronting screenplay, my instinct was that the script hadn’t been poured over enough. Dialogue, where there should have been visuals, explained things like background and character—which would have suited a novel better than a film—and the lead roles were too trope-y, with one brother playing the recognisably naïve, I-miss-the-cult-let’s-give-it-a-second-chance character and the other playing if-it’ll-teach-you-a-lesson-then-let’s-go.
Benson and Moorhead have worked on numerous successful films together (like Spring, and Resolution) that showcase their mutual passion for horror flicks; The Endless is just their latest work to receive both national and international acclaim. Amazingly, the film has also received a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; and yet, I remain doubtful. I think it’s because this film was an attempt to capture the long, eerie silences found in nature that a film like Picnic at Hanging Rock perfected, or even the questionable, mysterious behaviour of fellow characters who should be your friends, such as in the more recent horror film, Get Out; but unfortunately, it couldn’t quite get it right or live up to either of those film’s reputations.
Where there should have been rising tension, there wasn’t. When the climax finally arrived, I wasn’t there with the characters, nor trembling terrified in my seat. While doom and destruction loomed, the characters rambled amongst themselves, finally getting out the things they had always wanted to say—which had the effect of devaluating and minimising the effect of the conflict and danger behind them. No one ever seemed in real danger, so my ability to care for the characters or believe in their situation simply never arose. For filmmakers of the horror genre, I thought that Benson and Moorehead had fallen terribly flat.
In saying that, I respected their original concept and construction of a monster not quite human, alien or machine, but perhaps something in between. It’s perpetual surveillance of the characters—photographing and filming them wherever they went—and the way it communicated by leaving strange photos and tape recordings, was unnerving.
The film’s CGI effects were pleasantly realistic, as the beast twisted and warped the characters’ vision and their grip on reality. The music and sound effects department in particular should be congratulated; from the 80s electronic synth keyboard, to a repeating gramophone playing classical music, these sounds pulled me in and left me shaken.
When the ending rolled around, I couldn’t help raising my hands in frustration. For such a strange, unorthodox film, it seemed too easy. Some will argue that the trend of ambiguous endings in film has become too mainstream; but I felt The Endless needed that mystery, that heart-rattling moment when you don’t know who the cult members really were, or what happened to the brothers. Instead, while the general creepiness of the film won me over in part, the invisible monster above was never truly a threat nor an interesting, complex concept, and the story was given to us in a clear, beginning, middle and end narrative. There was always either not enough of something or something missing in this film.
When the credits rolled, I turned on my phone. I couldn’t shirk the feeling that this story had potential, but hadn’t been given all the passion and time that it needed. But then, a supernatural omen: the bright numbers of my phone’s digital clock shone up at me. 11:11. Maybe something was watching after all.
The Endless comes to Perth cinemas on March 29.
Image sourced from joblo.com.