The Endless (4 stars)

The Endless

Nuanced and restrained sci-fi horror from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Three years after their much-lauded but underwhelming sophomore feature Spring, indie directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead continue in the same Lovecraftian vein for their far more nuanced follow-up. While Spring was a traditional 'ordinary man wins over exceptional girl' narrative masquerading as original sci-fi, The Endless offers an authentic and effective study of faith, love and belonging.

Benson and Moorhead take the central roles of Justin and Aaron – the character names an intriguing, unexplained autobiographical touch – a pair of down-at-heel brothers who are struggling to make headway in life after escaping a 'UFO cult' a decade previously. Emotionally adrift, Aaron persuades his brother to return to Camp Arcadia and lay some ghosts to rest. While Aaron responds positively to the community, Justin remains sceptical of the group's assertions that they will soon ascend to a better life. When bizarre events begin to occur, however, the brothers are forced to question everything they believe.

If the performances are strong, with Benson and Moorhead's easy sibling dynamic running the gamut from affection to exasperation, the film's biggest strength is its growing sense of unease. As with all the best horror, The Endless is restrained, with an emphasis on the disturbingly uncanny – a baseball disappears in mid-air, the moon is reflected in the sky – rather than the horrific.

Moorhead also serves as cinematographer, and his camera creeps across the landscape, capturing both the anonymous expanse of the California setting and intimate, fleeting moments of the abnormal – often seen at the edge of the frame, as if from the corner of an eye. The editing, too, is evocative: sharp jump-cuts give a fractured, record-scratch feel, circles and mirrors are recurring motifs, the repetitive, nerve-jangling soundtrack and fragments of songs – in particular, the lamenting refrain of 'The House of the Rising Sun' – all speak of history repeating itself, despite our best efforts.

Indeed, as the film unfolds, these ideas of the deeply ingrained ruts of life, of the illusion of freedom and choice, become as insidious as its atmosphere. Following a clunky, exposition-heavy opening sequence, Benson's screenplay – which expands on the pair's little-seen 2012 debut Resolution – is quiet and reflective. While it may seem to concern itself with extraterrestrials, The Endless proves to be more about a very human kind of alienation, of the desperate importance of finding one's true place on Earth. Fittingly, repeated viewings are sure to reap further rewards.

Selected release from Fri 29 Jun.

The Endless

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 49min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
  • Cast: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Emily Montague
  • UK release: 29 June 2018

Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) are two brothers struggling to make a life for themselves after leaving a ‘UFO cult’, but then bizarre things begin to happen. An authentic and effective study of faith, love and belonging, with strong performances from the writer / director duo and a growing sense of unease.