Brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) Smith received a tape in the mail today, an old-style one for a video camera. It just so happens they have the facilities to play it, and are taken aback to see it is from some people they used to know asking when they will be back among them, as if they didn't leave on bad terms, which of course they did. Justin went to the media after they had abandoned their previous community and settled down on their own, and this created a lot of bad blood since he described that group as a UFO death cult who went through weird rituals and rules - all the males were castrated, for instance. Dare they return?
Going back to where you started from was a theme of The Endless, not least because for its makers, Benson and Moorhead, it represented a step back to what they were comfortable with after branching out with critical and cult hit Spring a couple of years before this. Their debut feature had been a deceptively mindbending science fiction horror named Resolution, which did not make huge waves but did alert movie buffs to the arrival of two very intriguing new talents on the scene; if nothing else, it made them look very promising indeed. Had they fulfilled that promise with The Endless? You had to ask because quite a bit of it seemed very familiar, again in keeping.
In keeping with Resolution, that was, and there was a danger that one tiny budget chiller was not going to have been sufficiently widely seen as the slightly larger budgeted follow-up. Certainly if you had caught that first movie you would be interested in this, since if it was not a sequel exactly, it was a "sidequel", taking place in the same universe and at times with the same characters: remember the UFO cult from that earlier effort? Well, they were the focus in this, as the siblings decide to go back to a gathering Justin has built up as a bunch of maniacs just itching to commit suicide to be with the space brothers in a move they term "the ascension", much like the Rapture of fundamentalist Christianity.
But is this what they are really planning, or has Justin been telling porkies? The fact that there was no investigation by the authorities that we know of indicates they are more a back to nature collective of peace-loving farmers escaping from the rigours of the modern world than something like the real-life Jonestown or Heaven's Gate dead. If this is the case, what are Justin's motives for keeping his brother in the dark? And once they are back in the fold, how come weird shit keeps casually happening, hinting there may be something more afoot at this remote countryside location than anyone is letting on? If you're thinking this was a piece of dodgy propaganda for... well, add the name of your faith cult of choice, then you would be mistaken, for there was indeed something sinister going on.
This tied in with the characters being characters in a film, as Resolution had delineated, or in a computer game, where there were choices they could make, yet only a finite number as programmed by the designer: as before, there was that paranoia that religion chooses to ignore most of the time but is definitely present in keeping the believers in line. Directors-writers-producers-editors-stars Benson and Moorhead were in effect the masters of their own destiny by being so involved with their plotlines, which by dint of creating The Endless short-circuited any actual guidance by mysterious forces when they were, in fact, the mysterious forces. They said this was an attempt to examine conformity, which appeared to come to the conclusion that everyone is a conformist at heart, whether they rebel or not, in this case not a source of comfort but a curse of willing repetition. Even if you knew Resolution, this did take its own sweet time in getting to the point, but it did reward the patient and cosmically thoughtful. Music by Jimmy Lavalle.
[Arrow's DVD has a commentary and an extensive interview with the creators as extras.]