"THE ENDLESS" — 2½ stars — Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez; not rated; Tower
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's "The Endless" explores a unique and disturbing premise: What if one of those survivalist cults was right?
The film follows the story of two brothers who return to the strange commune where they spent their childhood. Justin and Aaron Smith (played by Benson and Moorhead, respectively) were taken in at Camp Arcadia as children after a tragic car crash took their mother's life, but as the brothers reached adulthood, Justin persuaded Aaron to leave in search of a more mainstream existence.
We meet the brothers 10 years later, and life in the real world hasn't been all that great. Money is tight, jobs are tedious and suddenly the security and camaraderie of Camp Arcadia doesn't seem so bad, especially for Aaron. After a mysterious videotape greeting from the group shows up in the mail one day, Aaron persuades Justin to go back for a quick visit.
Justin is understandably hesitant, since aside from the obvious risks, he went out of the way to paint the group in as negative a light as possible with the local media. But when Justin and Aaron arrive at Camp Arcadia, which apparently survives off the profits of a homegrown brewery, they find open-armed forgiveness and a lifestyle that feels more like a summer camp, with archery stations, games and smiles.
Naturally, that's when strange things start to happen. Flocks of birds fly in bizarre circles, and one character always seems to be stalking through camp in a bad mood. Even more strange, Justin notices that no one at the camp seems to have aged since they left 10 years earlier, which makes it especially unsettling when Aaron starts to develop a relationship with a camp member (Callie Hernandez) 20 years his senior. "Nothing here ends," the brothers are told cryptically.
The brothers notice other strange phenomena as well, and, for everything that seems down to earth, the folks at Camp Arcadia still worship a mysterious entity that lives in the forest — an entity they claim communicates through photographs and magically appearing videotapes.
Bit by bit, "The Endless" transitions from low-key drama into science fiction territory as the brothers gradually learn what is really going on at the camp, and the story unfolds in an intriguing way that will keep you guessing as to what is going on.
The interesting premise and the measured storytelling style help "The Endless" overcome the limitations of its modest budget, and even if the final outcome isn't hugely satisfying, the film should be a nice option for genre fans.
Speaking of which, "The Endless" isn't quite a horror film, resting more in the sci-fi thriller realm. Its violence and gore come in at PG-13 levels, and the film would only qualify for an R rating thanks to some intermittent profanity, which seems pretty unnecessary.
Overall, "The Endless" does a good job with what it has and nods toward promising future work from Benson and Moorhead.
"The Endless" is not rated, but would likely draw a PG-13 for violence and gore; running time: 111 minutes.