Ten years after escaping the apocalyptic doomsday cult they were raised in, brothers Justin and Aaron (co-writers/directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead) are barely getting by, living a practically hand-to-mouth existence, surviving on menial, minimum wage, cleaning jobs and packs of instant noodles when they receive a mysterious package in the mail.

Opening the package, Aaron discovers a battered video cassette which appears to depict members of the cult bidding the world a fond farewell in anticipation of “the Ascension”. Despite the cynical Justin’s horror stories of brainwashing, mind control and his suspicions of voluntary castration and impending mass suicide, Aaron has only nostalgic memories of their time in the cult, of camaraderie, friendship and fresh, plentiful food, memories that contrast sharply with the lonely lives of quiet desperation the brothers now lead.

In an effort to appease the nostalgic Aaron who craves closure, Justin reluctantly agrees to revisit the cult’s commune, Camp Arcadia, where they find the cultists living an almost idyllic existence of craft beer brewing and arts and crafts. Welcomed back with open arms, it’s not long before the brothers start to notice something very strange is going on at Camp Arcadia; not only have none of the cultists aged in the last decade, none of them have any recollection of sending the brothers a farewell video tape.

Strange phenomena occur; birds flock in unearthly circular formations, a baseball casually tossed in the air takes minutes to fall to earth, fired bullets flatten and ricochet against invisible barriers, two moons rise over the camp and the cult members take part in a nightly ritual where they play tug-of-war with a giant unseen force in the woods while the camp’s neighbours appear to be trapped in their own private hells, doomed to repeat their actions endlessly.

As the weird phenomena escalate and the cultists prepare for their Ascension, Justin and Aaron discover secrets that threaten not just their sanity but their very existence…

A tense, uncanny slice of cerebral horror, The Endless, to paraphrase Big Arnie in Total Recall, may just be the best mindfuck yet! Boasting more twists and turns than Escher’s Penrose Steps illustration, the film is bold, ambitious, intelligent, truly adult sci-fi that’s both touching and terrifying, a spooky, trippy, slyly funny, narrative Ouroboros that mixes quantum physics and Lovecraftian horror into a tale of two brothers making their peace with their past and with each other.

While drawing on and revisiting their debut feature Resolution, with The Endless, Benson and Moorhead have created a nuanced, inventive standalone work that serves up creepy genre thrills even as it delivers a commentary on storytelling that questions the nature of reality, of creativity, of humanity, of love and family, forcing the audience to question their own perceptions of time, of space, of memory and free will, amplifying our own struggles to find meaning, identity, a sense of belonging.

Beautifully shot and edited, with a subtle and elegant script and subtle, minimal CGI that serves to unnerve, the performances from the ensemble cast are universally good, Benson and Moorhead particularly convincing as the bickering brothers and Tate Ellington wonderfully creepy in the most genial fashion as de facto cult leader Hal. Fans of the duo’s first film will welcome the reappearance of its protagonists (Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran) still trapped in their own Groundhog Day-esque temporal loop while James Jordan’s motor-mouthed suicidal metthhead, Shitty Carl, and Kira Powell’s blissed out hippy artist offer both clarity and comic relief.

And that is as much as I can tell you about The Endless. In fact, it may be too much already. Or possibly too little. Eerie and intriguing, it’s best to go into The Endless cold, knowing as little as possible, and just surrender yourself to its peculiar familiarity. Smart, funny and scary, The Endless is endlessly rewarding, a restrained, intelligent masterpiece.

Movie Review: The Endless
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