“You act like it’s crazy, like I’m the first person in history that actually wants to live forever. With people that like him. You know, there is not much difference between being stuck in a loop and being stuck repeating the same shitty day over and over like back home until I die.”
Oh man. I’ve been meaning to write posts for so long. 2021 was a bad year for mental health (for lots of people but specifically me) and I have only had sporadic desire to write but I have the spoons for it today so I wanted to quickly post a couple of recent SOPHFIFEST The Watcher films from Jan and Feb (this week) while I have the drive to!
So, here goes! ‘The Endless’ is a 2017, science fiction/horror movie which stars and is directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead. This isn’t the first film that they’ve co-written, co-directed and starred in. It’s actually meant to be a kind of sequel to their 2012 film ‘Resolution’, which I’ve not yet seen but I am going to watch thoooon. (Resolution shares the same universe and some of the same characters supposedly.)
So THIS film begins with brothers, Justin and Aaron Smith when they receive a video cassette from Camp Arcadia, a group they went to when they were kids after their mum died. They both have very different ideas about what happened when they were there. Aaron thinks that it was simple, commune kind of living, and Justin (who seems to be the older broski) thinks that it was a cult so they have very different feelings about that period of their life. There’s talk in the tape about ascension and Justin is worried that it relates to some sort of mass suicide but manages to still be talked into returning when Aaron expresses that he hates his boring day-to-day life. I think that Aaron particularly feels resentful that he lives this life when he could be back at Camp. So they go to Camp Arcadia. Everyone is quite friendly with them and it feels like no one has really aged. Aaron receives a lot of attention which he welcomes but Justin is super skeptical. There seems to be one member – Hal – who appears leader-like but at some point he says that there are no leaders in this camp. He’s also a physics buff and has a complicated equation drawn in chalk on a wall, to what he cannot say. Aaron grows very fond of the camp and he ends up convincing Justin to stay an additional day. And then lots of weird things start happening at the camp, which no one seems to be that phased by. There’s a moment when they play this weird tug of war game with a rope that just sort of floats in the sky and they just believe that someone is on on a ladder, holding the rope out of sight. We see birds flying in circles. There’s the weird dude who keeps running past them without saying a word. The sobbing woman. Justin thinks someone is watching him. He gets left a picture of a buoy, which he later finds in the lake so he dives down to see what it leads to and nearly drowns in the process (it’s a box with another tape). Oh and there’s the other matter of there being MULTIPLE FRICKING MOONS! And the general ominous words from Hal suggesting Justin come to a conclusion before the third moon. Justin is, rightly so, freaked out by all of this and wants to leave but then he and his brother have a fight and it turns out Justin told him a bunch of lies when they were kids, suggesting that the people at camp were all castrated and alien loving death cultists. This makes Aaron and Hal super mad. Hal asks Justin to leave, but he can’t because his car is borked. Typical. Justin tries to get help and bumps into the guy who keeps running past him, and the guy tells him that they’re all trapped there in time loops, that he tried to kill himself many times and that an entity is trapping them there (it seems to get some sort of sick pleasure out of the violent nature of their repeated deaths, evident when he’s like “it won’t let me sleep, it won’t let me dream”). He warns him if he doesn’t get out by the time the 3rd moon rises, Justin and his brother will also be trapped and gives him a compass to help him find his way. He ends up finding Aaron but not before seeing more weirdness and they go back to camp and find a previously locked door open (the spoooooooky door) inside which is a tonne of different tapes dated from years and years ago and when they enter, a TV starts playing and it’s showing them Justin and Aaron in different scenarios from the entity’s perspective. Freaked out, they try to find the camp peeps and realise that the whole camp have been obliterated and then the entity starts to engulf the camp and they have to run. In the mad dash, they fight over Justin wanting to do things his way and eventually he relents and they manage to get away. The last scene suggests they might be looping to the beginning but then you realise they might have actually made it out.
Sooooo, I really enjoyed this film. The concept is so interesting and something I’ve not seen before. They put a few different sci fi/horror concepts together for maximum creep factor. The weird cultish camp. The Stepford Wives type grinning fella. The magnetic cult leader. It gave off this real Deliverance vibe which set the hairs on my neck on end pretty early on, despite a lot of the film being shot in a lot of light. It would be easy to make something creepy in a cultish cabin in the woods at nighttime; that would just play on our natural fear of nighttime danger… but this film managed to maintain and build tension without any of that for the most part. Not helped by the brothers’ tendency to make a lot of silly (what seem like) dangerous choices throughout the film, and you’re just like why are you doing that, that’s really not smart dude?! I believe, also, the way the two brothers were written lends creedance to that because they play two different dynamics. They play the child and the adult. The innocent and the skeptical. So throughout you hear perspectives of the camp and its people through these two different lenses and not really knowing where you stand and whose opinion to trust makes it so uneasy. So when you do start seeing a bunch of weird things happening you think maybe you can’t trust your judgement, because both Aaron and Justin are unreliable narrators of this story.
I also really enjoyed that it felt very much that the sci fi and horror elements seemed to come secondary to this story of brotherhood. At the beginning Aaron is complaining about being stuck in Justin’s way of doing things which has them in their own little loop. It takes them getting stuck at the camp to firstly realise that they WERE stuck but also maybe doing things Justin’s way… the cynical, one foot in front of the other, not trusting anyone or anything, only having each other… it really hasn’t served them all that well. By letting go at the the end of the film, Aaron feels like he has closure from this camp and maybe Justin does have capacity to change. It’s a very loving ending. It’s like Justin accepts Aaron in that moment, and then they pass what is apprently the grave of the mother at the end, so it feels like a little nod to her that they’re okay; they found their way eventually.
Another part of me feels like maybe they didn’t get out at the end. In fact, maybe they’ve been actually stuck in a loop this whole time. We assume that they left the camp when they were kids and that they couldn’t possibly be stuck by the same entity because the people in the camp are ageless even though maybe 20 years have passed… But maybe no one ages in those specific time loops because most of the people who re-spawn do so after they try to kill themselves. We see the camp eviscerated and assume the entity did that but maybe they WERE a suicide cult and that’s what keeps bringing them back to the start. Maybe because Aaron and Justin endured their own loop, and were unaware they were stuck in one, they never tried to kill themselves so they aged. I don’t know. That has been playing on my mind since I watched it and I love that. There’s also the moment at the end when they drive away and you think they’re not gonna make it because there’s loads of birds trying to get through the forcefield and bouncing off and it seems like they make it out but my brain goes to: OR IS IT?! My brain has been saying WHAT IF since I watched this film. I mean, it must be called The Endless for a reason. Maybe it really is Endless.
I have a lot of questions in my mind about when this all began. Who was the first person to get stuck? The tapes behind the locked spooky door suggest this goes deeper than the handful of characters we see. And I also wonder what the entity gets out of this. Where does it come from? How long has it existed? What does it really look like? What is the purpose of all of these different time loops? Does it feed off of them somehow? Or is it just for its own entertainment? Is it like a weird, adult version of Monsters Inc where this entity scares these people to death over and over in their little time pods, and that generates enough energy for this alien’s home world? Maybe Aaron and Justin ARE on its homeworld, trapped. Or maybe they’re actually in limbo. One theory that crossed my mind was that they actually had something to do with their mother’s death… that they inadvertantly caused her to crash with their bickering when they were kids and while she went to heaven, they went to this hell dimension where they were forced to live out their own personal sense of hell until they could come to terms with something they had to learn… which might work because the cult, and the weird angry dude may have killed themselves… And there’s a couple moments when Hal is trying to work out some answer. One way is through an equation (which supposedly is about light?? I don’t really know) and another is in a moment where he says something like ‘maybe the lesson here is forgiveness’ about Justin, after which he immediately acts in ways that are very unfogiving. Maybe they’re all stuck in hell too with something to learn before they can ‘ascend’ to heaven, and the entity is actually a monstrous Lucifer. And I’ve also seen some theories that this is all a machination of the character Mike, that he is just insane and this is all in his mind (but that would be WAY too easy).
There’s a potential further theory tied into the idea of the land being Arcadia, which is a Greek mythological bountiful, utopic garden, inhabited by shepherds and unspoiled by savagery (said savagery possibly depicted by Aaron and Justin), but I haven’t explored that concept enough to have an opinion on this. I will consider this some more!
I also enjoyed the grainy nature of the film. I don’t remember what it was like right at the beginning when they were in ‘real life’, if it was particularly colourful but the sepia type change was so subtle that it took me a long time to realise anything had changed. And at first I just thought wow dusty terrain. And then I realised that was an intentional choice to make the camp and everything stuck in these loops look like something of the past. Like an old photo. There’s even a moment where we see a man in a tent who is re-spawning over and over again and he warns Aaron(?) to get away as far as he can, and it seems like the graphics inside the tent look black and white almost which seems to depict the man’s comparative age, as in he’s been there a longggggg long time. Supposedly, he’s credited as something like 1900s man, so that makes a lot of sense. It really reminded me of BioShock Infinite actually… there are these moments in that game when you can see supplied in other dimensions as black and white blobs and the tent inside has the same sort of vibe to it. Perhaps the look of the film could have been more polished, but the film didn’t have a very big budget and I think what they managed to achieve with the budget they had is WAYYYYYY BETTTERRRR than a lot of big hollywood films.
So all in all, really enjoyable film, great idea. Love that they tied it to their previous film. It makes the world feel large and full of a lot of possibility for sequels that left me wanting to understand more. I have so many questions but I think that’s what makes this film so compelling. A+ would watch again.