Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fantasia 2017--The Endless--Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (2017)

Justin Benson and Aaron's Moorhead's The Endless (2107) turns the desert into an otherwordly realm
The Fantasia Film Festival can make a filmmaker's career, it's that well known and prestigious a festival.  When Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead were introducing their third film at this year's festival, the accomplished and extremely smart The Endless (2017), they thanked festival programmer Mitch Davis with heartfelt gratitude for giving their first feature, Resolution (2012) its breakout screening, all based on a "scratched up DVD" he was generous enough to watch, and love.  For those of you in the know about the indie horror/sci-fi film world, the rest is history as these two filmmakers have become the darlings of the festival world based on their high quality, deeply reflective films (be sure to see their second film, Spring (2014) too). The Endless connects to their previous films, a gift to their fans, but also stands alone as a balanced and inventive work on its own.

Justin and Aaron (co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) revisit their old UFO death cult
The Endless follows Justin and Aaron (played by co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead), two brothers who struggle to live a happy life under their present circumstances.  They are both former "escapees" from what Justin describes as a "UFO death cult" that consisted of fun practices like castration, pedophilia, and plans for a mass suicide.  After the brothers receive a videotape from the death cult suggesting that the cult's members are far from dead, Aaron decides he must revisit this part of his childhood, and Justin unwillingly joins him.  They encounter not quite what they expect, as the cult is still pretty mysterious, but doesn't seem as "woo-woo" as it could be, and members do not seem like they are on a one-way track to mass death.  Still, plenty of weird sh** keeps happening to make you simultaneously side with both the wildly suspicious Justin and the naively trusting Aaron.

The brothers encounter strange totems and supernatural phenomena in this desert retreat
As I mentioned, there are plenty of nods to their previous films, specifically to Resolution, to make a fan's head swell with in-the-know pride.  The film employs its desolate and isolated landscape beautifully, and I haven't encountered that pervasive sense of lostness in a film for a while--an uncanny sense that you're pretty sure you passed that exact same log just moments ago.  The film is just ambiguous enough to make you trust our protagonists and yet question what they experience, and whether they are actually reliable as narrators.  Benson and Moorhead use the "don't show too much" approach to genre filmmaking, so that your imagination is triggered and fills in the blanks deliberately left open.  Nevertheless, what they do show us is pretty damn cool.  These guys know how to create a rich and elaborate world with very little money.  Will someone please give them a television show?  I believe that they could give Stranger Things a seriously competitive run. The Endless is the kind of cerebral sci-fi film that takes you along for a ride while making you feel rather smart, and is littered with surprises for those viewers who feel jaded by many contemporary examples of the genre.  This film solidifies Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's solid reputation; they simply ROCK.  See this film.