Exploring The Endless With Benson and Moorhead

Filmmakers talk science, magic, and bickering brothers

Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Aaron Moorhead been hearing that a lot about his new film, The Endless. "That quote came up very recently," he said. "It's interesting that that quote has become tied up around our movie."

Justin Benson (l) and Aaron Moorhead in The Endless (Image courtesy of Well Go USA)

The idea that a concept will loop around and repeat is not alien to Moorhead and his longtime creative partner Justin Benson. In their latest film, The Endless, they play brothers who revisit the cult compound where they grew up, only to find that there's something stranger there than either could ever remember.

Following on from their first film, Resolution, the story is not simply about running away from a monster, but about how the siblings navigate the world they thought they know from a radically new perspective. "The most hardcore atheist in the world leaves open room for new understanding of things," said Moorhead. "That's why we were working on a film about Aleister Crowley where, 'Look man, I think that man's probably crazy and a bad person. But he had these ideas about what magic is, that I can't completely dismiss because I just don't know.' It's really good to keep your mind open to this."

Austin Chronicle: Your work is often called Lovecraftian, but that has basically come to mean "tentacles," like nonsexual hentai.

Aaron Moorhead: I've been seeing that backlash on Reddit. "Lovecraft is tentacles now," which is so crazy to us. [Benson and Moorhead's second film] "Spring is Lovecraftian." Wait, because there's a tentacle in one shot? We get called Lovecraftian for that? That was easy.

AC: It's really the other element of Lovecraft, and of Poe, the horror of not knowing how the universe works, and trying to put the pieces together. It's like the idea in A Dark Song, that magic being understanding the architecture of the universe, and there's an element of that here.

Justin Benson: It's kind of speculative fiction, but the thing that you would use to describe the mechanic is too old and complicated to describe, but it's real, and it's natural, and it's there. You wouldn't even call it supernatural.

AC: Once you decided to be your own cast, was it always clear which brother was going to have what dynamic?

JB: We made a movie six years ago called Resolution, and it's in no way a prerequisite to watching this movie, but we didn't want to disrespect that movie by negating anything in it, and we were technically playing the same characters that we played in that film. At the time, we were going into production, and went, "The characters' names are Justin and Aaron," so we ended up specifically Justin and Aaron in the script. In terms of the power dynamic ...

AM: That existed in the Resolution scene.

JB: Yeah, when you look at the scene in Resolution, the character of Justin is clearly leading the other two guys into the situation.

AM: There's also the older brother/younger brother thing. It wouldn't make quite as much emotional sense if the younger brother had power over the older brother.

Through the gates of madness in The Endless (Image courtesy of Well Go USA)

AC: You're experts at sealed bubble filmmaking. Much like Yorgos Lanthimos, there's this world-building, and the logic is all in there, and you know how far you can push that and still make it work.

AM: Especially in with sci-fi or horror movies or fantastic cinema, if you want to put a category on it, what you have to do is establish the rules of your world, the rules of your monster. Ours is often something where it doesn't have 9 million rules: It actually stems from one idea and naturally blossoms from that. Spring's a really good example, where you go, OK, what if, instead of having a baby, a woman could metabolize those cells? That's literally everything in that movie. "Oh, I guess, that would mean she would be immortal, but she'd have to keep doing it." OK, so then there's this story that's a romance, and her body would freak out like pregnancy, but she's been doing this a long time, so there's this aspect to it. So it's not just these scattershot rules.

The Endless is the same way. We started with this idea of an unseen antagonist, one that visits us in our earlier movie, and thought about what it wanted and the mechanisms by which it would work. So there's a lot of odd fallout and radiation from that nuclear blast of an idea, and we try to go and find out where those strands lead.

JB: There's a weird thing when I'm writing that, if I believe in it, I'm thrilled by it, even if it's insane. Even if it's, there's a plant, it's not weed, it's red, but if you smoke it you can see this natural phenomenon happening around that is otherworldly. Even though it's fiction, and I made it up, I can believe in that. Unlike a haunted house – I can't quite believe in that.

AM: We love our great human myths, but something that resonates for us, but would not fit in with what we want to do, is something like a vampire, a very, very cliched vampire. Meaning, it's just this random assortment of rules. OK, they're undead, they drink blood, there's kind of a connection there. They have sharp teeth, kind of a connection. They turn into a bat – OK, you lost the connection. They don't have a reflection, you lost the connection completely. They sleep in a coffin, well, I have no idea what's going on anymore. You're just adding rules, and at a certain point it's just not scary anymore.

The Endless is in theatres now. For review and showtimes, visit our listings page.

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