Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Endless


Ten years ago, two brothers left a cult for fear of being forced into committing suicide; now as adults, living on their own, their life doesn't seem to have improved much. Aaron, the younger brother even misses the place, and when he receives a package from the farm that appears to be a goodbye message, he manages to nag Justin into driving there with him. For closure; for curiosity; for a decent meal. What they get is stranger than either ever imagined.

Written and directed by the stars, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.

The otherworldly mystery presented is meant to be Lovecraftian; an intriguing and rather high goal. The impressive part is, it succeeds in it so well, that it feels almost effortless. Perhaps because the similarities were achieved by restraint instead of mimicry. They have their Odd Thing -- the cult members just call it It -- and they slowly and steadily learn about it. Enough to satisfy the initial curiosity, but to leave us more curious than we were to start; and just enough so that the fear element peaks but doesn't fall, as we never quite see behind the curtain.

By the end, we know what It is (more or less) but it's not just some giant monster to be poorly rendered in CGI for the heroes to run away from. The restraint of it is what makes it monstrous. Much like the yellow buoys that indicate Jaws, or the ripples in a glass of water than indicate a T-Rex. This was a low-budget indie film, but I'm sure the filmmakers would have refrained from showing their Odd Thing even if they the budget to make it look realistic and of any design they wanted. You can make monsters look gross and creepy all day long, but the more real fear comes from the unknown.

Not scary so much as unsettling. And a little awe-inspiring. 

And despite the small budget, there are some smaller effects here, not totally flawless in appearance, but used effectively, mostly to create beauty. The movie turns away from ugliness and violence and lingers in the scenery, and it works exactly as it was meant to. There's a strange lens effect that I assume was intentional, were panning makes everything look fish-eyed that was trippy. Overall the cinematography was classically small-time indie, and never attempts more than can be achieved. There was some blue color-grading at the beginning of the film that I didn't like, but once they're in the desert and mountains everything looks very nice.

They did a good job casting, and the acting, while nowhere near exceptional or Oscar-worthy, is fully passable and convincing, and doesn't slide into degrading cheesy or wooden territories, even when delivering exposition or comedy. In fact, there's some surprisingly good comedy here, not just because cute little jokes aren't usually funny in films like this, but because I didn't even expect there to be attempts at humor at all. But it does balance its dark mystery well with banter and various styles of dark comedy too.

I'd love to see what these guys could do without budgetary restrictions.

All that makes for an enjoyable film, but on top of that, there's meaningful character drama that pulls it all together, bringing the focus back to the brothers and their relationship. I found their ongoing argument surprisingly fascinating, and though the resolution came practically out of nowhere, it was one of my favorite parts of the movie. The themes of control and family aren't explored with much subtlety, but the more straightforward approach is better than not coming across at all. Still, most of the movie could've been more refined, and the character drama most of all.

I don't want to give a complete pass because of small budget, especially in the writing department which doesn't require money. It could have been deeper, yes -- but on the level it was at, it was impressively effective. An indie homage to Lovecraft that understands the work it admires -- and with its own ideas to dedicate itself to, it becomes a worthwhile tale in its own right.

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