Since their debut feature, 2012’s Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have emerged as two of American indie cinema’s most inventive genre filmmakers, doing things on very modest budgets that Hollywood typically spends millions on.
H.P. Lovecraft, as past movies have so thoroughly demonstrated, is a hard nut to crack when it comes to the screen. Many have tried and nearly all have failed. Yet by indirectly riffing on the Rhode Island master’s extraordinary stories, Benson and Moorhead are entirely free to do their thing without the need for imitation or fan service homage, all the while creating what increasingly appears to be their own mythos and universe. There are also shades of Jacques Rivette to be found in the way Benson and Moorhead play around with narrative, or use inference and location to suggest magic is at work. They’re not above embellishing imagery with computer-generated effects, where applicable, but the pair are at the very best when the Rivettian aesthetic is present.
The Endless opens with a quote from Lovecraft’s 1927 essay, ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. Part of what makes Benson and Moorhead’s films so engaging and rewarding is to be found in the unknown. Their films are journeys into the unexpected, too, with the directors, like mad scientists, dissecting and experimenting on just about every horror genre trope and staple out there. If you’re of the opinion Scream and The Cabin in the Woods are the last very word in postmodernist horror – think again.
Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) are brothers and former members of a cult. The siblings fled one day, when Justin got the impression things were about to take a turn for the Jonestown, with a mass suicide on the cards. Since then, Justin and Aaron have felt out of loop and out of time, working as cleaners and struggling with deprogramming. When a mysterious videotape draws them back to the compound – known as Camp Arcadia – the bickering pair find the cult haven’t topped themselves, they’re not as dangerous as they remember and maybe they’re just alternative living types after all.
Dotted throughout with clever clues and showcasing a remarkable narrative dexterity, The Endless makes it three home runs on the trot for Benson and Moorhead. Presented visually like they made it during the start or end of a solar eclipse, the paleness of the photography and arid desert-like landscape backdrops heightening the sense of peculiarity and unreality unfolding throughout the course of the plot. Fans of cosmic horror and tales of the weird will not want to miss this one.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn