Movie Review: ‘THE ENDLESS’ remarkably blends psychological horror and drama


Jared McMillan // Film Critic


Not rated, 111 minutes.
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Cast: Callie HernandezJames JordanEmily MontagueTate EllingtonLew TempleJustin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

There have been countless essays and novels that show how the horror genre is indicative of the times we live in. The greater the paranoia surrounding our society, the better the horror movies that are produced. For example, without the paranoia of AIDS, the slasher genre wouldn’t have made such an impact in the 80s. As such, the past couple of years have produced an exceptional amount of paranoia, and the movie-going population has received a lot of good-to-great mainstream horror movies.

That said, horror has always done well independently. It’s where the genre can push its boundaries without the repercussions of major studios. The imagination comes further into view due to the small budget, and imagination is where the fear that stems from viewing horror grows with every scene. The anticipation of jump scares as well as the possibility of getting swerved in an entirely different direction.

Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been viewed as “ones to watch” on the horror scene for the past several years. From their solid debut feature RESOLUTION, followed by the fantastic romantic-horror film SPRING, they know how to keep the audience in a comfort zone long enough to lead them in a completely different direction. Their latest movie, THE ENDLESS, once again proves their strengths to manipulate the horror genre.

Brothers Justin and Aaron Smith (Benson & Moorhead) are trapped in a boring life. They’re constantly around each other, with Justin lording over the younger Aaron to the point of controlling. But there’s a reason: they are escapees of a UFO cult, with Justin breaking the them out before any real damage was done. One day, Aaron receives a mysterious video tape from their former cult and the brothers realize that they need to go back for their own closure.

Courtesy photo.

As they return to the scene of their brainwashed youths, there is something different about the place that wasn’t there before. Former friends like Hal (Tate Ellington) and Anna (Callie Hernandez) look like they have barely aged at all. The camp has a legitimate business by selling their own beer and everyone is happy. Were the Smith brothers really in a cult at all? Did Justin misunderstand everything that was going on? Or is there something else happening behind the scenes?

This is the part where Benson and Moorhead start to play with the audience’s mind. Details emerge as Justin and Aaron stay and explore the people that live outside the camp, and it all unravels to the audience as the protagonists find out themselves. They give the viewer just enough to keep them at arm’s length until the third act comes in to knock you out, so much so that details regarding THE ENDLESS need to be kept sparse so as not to ruin the experience.

The acting is a bit wooden, but it does well to serve the story, as the environment surrounding the cult becomes the star of the show. Benson and Moorhead, as they’ve done in their previous films, know how to manipulate the senses and keep that sense out of view. The use of light and dark really play on the mystery, and they incorporate a slight fish-eye lens to make the viewer aware of a distorted reality, but also a key role as to what is going on around the Smith brothers.

THE ENDLESS is very much a psychological horror but it is also a family drama, as the brothers learn to accept a reality and trust themselves. It takes the classic cult subgenre and molds it into something wholly new (although there is a nice reference to RESOLUTION in the movie). It might not be their best work (seriously, watch SPRING if you haven’t), but it still makes them a great voice to have for the world of today’s independent horror.

Grade: B

THE ENDLESS is now playing in select theaters.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.