Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Cinematography: Aaron Scott Moorhead
Editor: Justin Benson, Michael Felker
Cinematographer: Aaron Moorhead
An A-list of Character Actors, Including: Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, James Jordan
At the IFC Center
The number of times one sees a movie is the best indication of just how good it is. Audiences seeing this movie should be prepared to be looped into an endless experience.
On with the review.
In a telling scene, Shitty Carl, played by a sneering, sardonic James Jordon in a savage, A+ performance, is advising the brothers Justin and Aaron Smith how they can escape a cruel fate awaiting them. “The trick is not to be afraid of something that is horrifying and everyone’s afraid of it,” says Shitty Carl. “But if you let it control you one time, it’s going to control you over and over again.”
“If you see that thing, don’t apologize to it, don’t bow down to it, you just fucking run like your life depends on it – because your life depends on it.”
Shitty Carl is paying the price for succumbing that one time to “it,” a sinister, omniscient, cosmic Higher Power holding him and others as inmates on the cult-commune, Arcadia. In this mind blower of a film, where reality can be warped like looping Instagram and Twitter posts unstuck in time, the two brothers are, nevertheless, equivocating about leaving even as foreboding signs and the apocalyptic caveat by Shitty Carl suggest that they flee, flee, flee.
There are benefits if they stay: Good food and camradery in a rustic valley of scenic vistas where commune members look as if they haven’t aged in the last 10 years! Of course, there is one all important reason to flee: The “it” described by Shitty Carl.
We first meet the brothers in 2017 as they are dealing with the banalities of everyday life with the help of a therapist. They were front-page news 10 years earlier because of their flight from what the California news media described as a mass suicide and a mass castration that took place at a so-called UFO cult-doomsday-commune, Arcadia. Justin, the oldest, played by Director-Writer Justin Benson, bosses around his younger brother, Aaron, played by Aaron Morehead, generating brotherly resentment. They clean houses for a living and scavenge for throwaway items they can use for fun or profit. They store the refuge in their yard. They live simply and on the margins and gripe a lot about the lack of good organic food and the inanities and banalities of modern day life. They are ambivalent about socializing and dating, and admit to their therapist that they are socially awkward.
One day in their humdrum life, a package arrives on their doorstep as if it was dropped out of the sky. [Hint, hint]. Inside is a battered video tape, and the brothers, after the younger Aaron finds an equally battered video player in the yard of scavenged goods, watch as a member of the cult-commune, actress Emily Montague playing cult-commune member Jennifer Danube, talks about a visit to the cult-commune by whomever is watching the video. The footage is scratchy, faded, off color, and Jennifer seems, well, a bit strange. Nevertheless, the brothers decide that the tape was sent by their former commune brothers and sisters whom they had believed were all dead from the mass suicide. The brothers decide to accept what they regard as an invitation and hop in their vehicle for a drive to Arcadia.
THE ENDLESS is way, way out there, a 10-star movie on a five-star scale. “We knew we wanted to make a movie about nonconformity, about the dangers of both complacency and rebellion,” writer-director Benson is quoted as saying in the production notes. “If you wanted to wrap it into a single thought, it’s that you have to choose to take drastic, potentially dangerous action, in your life in order to break out of any cycle you find yourself stuck in. Reward only comes with risk, right? So, that’s the top-level theme, which is reflected in the big Sci-fi ideas that are revealed later in the film, one we won’t give away here but has to do with fighting against absolute control.”
This reviewer doesn’t want to give away too much, either. Benson’s script is a gem, especially in the way that the truth about what really happened 10 years ago unfolds over the course of the film, the way that tension and excitement builds inexorably towards an apocalyptic denouement. Benson has an A-list of character actors. The cinematography is luscious. The pacing of the story is direct though for this reviewer it saunters, pleasantly, of course, for about 57 minutes, with intriguing hints of things to come for the brothers – and the audience.
Then, like a Cape Canaveral launch, soars and soars and soars and …
Gregg Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org