The Endless (2017)

Groundhog Day. We have a strange love affair with this movie. We compare other movies to it, such as Happy Death Day being Groundhog Day as a slasher, Edge of Tomorrow being Groundhog Day an alien invasion war movie, Boss Level as a pure action take on Groundhog Day, and so on. It isn’t our only reference point for time loops, but it’s the one we compare it to. Despite this, in all these takes, with characters dying over and over and over again, have you ever really thought about how much it would be one unending hell to have to return to the same moment in time again and again? Well, now you can, and it’s even worse than you imagined because it’s not some kind of freak accident, it’s a big freaky critter that likes to treat us like puppets.

Justin and Aaron are brothers who escaped a cult. They live a terrible life barely making ends meet in Los Angeles, only to one day receive an old video message telling them goodbye. Justin is happy to let life continue, but Aaron only remembers the good times; he begs his brother to take him back to visit. Against his better judgment but wanting his brother to find some kind of happiness, Justin agrees. When they arrive, they find the group is less a cult and more of a hippie commune, where everyone has their one thing, people work tirelessly in their dedication to their chosen thing, and life seems pretty happy. In short, it’s nothing like the alien death cult full of castration that Justin and Aaron recall, only for Aaron to eventually learn it never was; Justin had made it up to paint the group in a bad light before getting Aaron to leave with him. Sure, there’s plenty of strange phenomenon, but people seem to claim it’s just an atmospheric trick, some kind of drug effect, or simply aren’t able to explain it at all.

And then they both learn the truth separately: that the commune is in a ten year time loop, in a valley full of time loops going at different rates, with no way out save to die at the intended point of whatever entity is controlling it all. This is the unceasing torment of The Endless, and once you are caught in the end of a loop, you are stuck in it forever. However, you are also given a sense of immortality in the process, so while some people’s loops make for a nightmare, others get the chance to learn, grow, and adapt from their mistakes. It always starts the same, but everyone learns as they continue with new knowledge despite being forced to re-experience whatever time frame they’re faced with. So, what do Justin and Aaron choose: a miserable life where they can make their own decisions, or a pseudo-utopian commune controlled by a sentient creature we cannot see that kills and resets us after a certain amount of time? Go watch the movie, it’s great.

Also, it’s a sequel. Well, it’s a sort of sequel. Directors/writers/producers/stars Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have helmed a few projects together, including a previous obscenely low budget film, Resolution, that is like the cinematic equivalent of a chef’s kiss from Emeril Lagasse over a bowl of crawfish Étouffée. For $20,000, they created a horrific mind game that feeds you a fantastic puzzle before ending on a shock that lingers in the old gray matter. Unfortunately, the characters of that fantastic film return for The Endless, and fate has not been kind. To truly appreciate all of The Endless, you should watch Resolution first to understand a lot of background of these characters, the locations, and the events going on around them. In fact, I’d argue you absolutely need to see it to get the most out of The Endless, but the world you see unfold across both films is bleak. These are not happy stories, but they are compelling ones, and the heart breaks for what transpires.

Also, this film wasn’t exactly made with fat stacks of steaming hot cash. Benson and Moorhead chose to serve as the principal actors because they knew they could keep costs down easier, and the soundtrack consists heavily of “House of the Rising Sun” because of its status in the public domain. Perhaps a large part of why they revisit Resolution is due to the low cost of filming in that location with those folks. Yes, it’s obvious that they did still have a bigger budget this time around; the visual effects, while cheap, are still far more than they were able to do in the pseudo-prequel. The cast is significantly larger, the locations more numerous, and the set dressing more prop-heavy. But it’s still a low budget movie, and Benson and Moorhead once again knock it out of the park and into some poor dude’s windshield across the street. Poor fella, I hope insurance covers that.

Also, who knew all it takes to weird out an audience is a rope in the air, some photographs falling out of nowhere, and a couple of extra moons in the sky? That’s another thing that makes The Endless so great; it’s not going for jump scares or gratuity. It does what it does quietly but strangely, with little things that add to the growing strangeness of the situation. Is there anything inherently sinister about a smiling man wearing a fanny pack? No, at least not until you realize he only ever smiles that unflinching smile as if his face were paralyzed. What about street magic-type tricks? Make a baseball spend way too much time in the air, and this suddenly becomes something mysterious and questionable, as basic rules of physics stop working. There’s something wrong with the universe, and it doesn’t need to jump out screaming while flailing its arms to convey this sense of mangled failure. It just needs to take a little longer for something to happen, or to happen in an unusual way, like seeing the same guy walk the same way past you while wearing the same clothes over and over again.

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