Fantastic Fest Review: The Endless
Spring team head on a familiar but reinvented roadtrip
By Richard Whittaker,
11:00AM, Thu. Sep. 28, 2017
Science fiction writer and futurologist Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The Endless, the third feature from genre-bending innovators Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, posits that the supernatural is science we just don't understand yet.
It's an idea the pair first tackled in their debut feature, 2012's cult favorite Resolution. After diverting into a very strange romance with Spring, they return to the scene of that horror/drama/comedy with two brothers (played by the directing duo themselves). Justin and Aaron skipped out on what Justin keeps telling his younger sibling was a UFO doomsday sect with a taste for castration: Aaron doesn't remember any of this, just thinking back to their blissful days in the woods, eating fresh vegetables, and playing games. Why not go back for one last day, he pleads? After all, anything has to be better than their failing home cleaning company, and eating dried ramen in other people's kitchens, right?
Of course, this is a terrible idea, because the cult is less Heaven's Gate and more H.P. Lovecraft. Yet this is not the Lovecraft of ichor and tentacles. This is the Lovecraft of The Color Out of Space, the one for whom the universe obeys different laws to the ones we foolishly impose upon it, and madness is just a different perspective.
So don't go in expecting flailing limbs and goo. Instead, the duo bicker with an easy familial looseness, exploring their old communal home and their own tense relationship. Meanwhile, something is lurking in the skies and in the lake
Benson gives Justin a tired intensity, as the brother who has had to become the de facto head of their dysfunctional household. Meanwhile Moorhead's onscreen Aaron evokes a young Cary Elwes, somewhere between the innocent charm of The Princess Bride's Westley and the awkward idiocy of Jerry the stepdad in Liar Liar.
The duo's longtime offscreen friendship translates fluidly to the screen, but it's still as a creative partnership where they are on unique ground. There's a kinship to one of the most revered and beloved Fantastic Fest titles, 2016's A Dark Song, as both films have their own specific and elaborate cosmology. But moreover, both are about people dealing with who they are in a universe they don't quite necessarily understand. And just as A Dark Song uses the supernatural to explore grief and anger, The Endless questions how easily people get stuck in a rut. It just uses mad gods, time loops, and impossible physics to get there. If there's such a thing as observational comedy horror, this is it.
As either actors or creators, Benson and Moorhead are in every frame of this film. Together they give the cosmos-mangling insanity a grounded truth and a light hilarity, building on the concepts of Resolution, and even brings back some familiar characters, without creating anything so threadbare as a sequel.
The EndlessThursday, September 28, 4:10pm
Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 21-28. Follow all the announcements, news, reviews, and interviews at www.austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.