Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are best known as directors, helming well-received horror indies like Resolution and Spring, but in their latest film, the tense and trippy thriller The Endless, they step in front of the camera. Together, they star as brothers with their own first names, who were raised in a strange desert commune named Camp Arcadia after their mother died in a car crash. Justin and Aaron (the characters) escaped to civilization about a decade ago, leaving behind what the older Justin dismisses as “the UFO death cult.” Aaron, however, has fonder memories of their time in the desert, and when they receive a peculiar videotape in the mail from one of the cult members, Aaron convinces the reluctant Justin to take one more trip back for a visit.
At first, Arcadia seems welcoming if slightly New Age-y, and its hippie members brew their own beer and sing karaoke. But there’s something unsettling lurking beneath the breezy summer camp vibes, and from the moment Aaron and Justin arrive, the air hums with tension and claustrophobia. The mysteries start small — circling clouds of birds, strange rock formations, a padlocked door — before accelerating into the downright bizarre. To say more would ruin the film’s unexpected and delightfully twisty plot, but trust that there’s definitely something strange (and Lovecraftian) afoot at Camp Arcadia.
Benson and Moorhead masterfully ratchet up the sense of unease, before the third act takes a turn for the truly terrifying. As multiple moons appear in the sky and the cult members start to whisper about something called “the ascension,” Justin and Aaron find themselves entangled in a puzzle involving time loops and some sort of unseen puppet-master. But even as the circumstances get increasingly strange and the plot veers into over-the-top territory, the story stays grounded by focusing on the relationship between the two brothers. Justin is the more cautious, skeptical one who wants to protect his younger brother, while Aaron is simply trying to find his place in the world — with or without the cult. The result is a thoughtful investigation into how our past and our families shape who we are — with plenty of scares and mind-bending twists. B