There’s a difficulty to capturing Lovecraftian style horror in a movie. It’s not just about the unknown, or even the unknowable, it’s also about confusion and powerlessness. It’s a deep-seated dread that the truths and machinations of the universe are so vast that the lives and actions of humanity not only don’t change anything, but don’t even rate the awareness of the true players. ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ chronicles the horror of simply finding evidence of the Elder Gods and being chased by the long abandoned creatures who live there. ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’ reveals that a great mind of humanity only warrants the status of a pet for the servants of the true universal powers, nothing more.
On the screen, and away from Lovecraft’s own writing, it’s harder to find good examples of the expansive, unimaginable Eldritch style. During the first part of the first season of True Detective, the show built an impressive sense of horror by hinting that the murders being investigated lead into a deep and impenetrable rabbit hole of mysticism and, perhaps, truth. The resolution of the season arc really undid a lot of that because it provided a sense of closure through the actions of humans. It’s this need to provide closure that causes so many promising horror stories to fall flat, and that is no less true of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless.
There is a thematic irony to this as the movie’s plot revolves around two men (played by Benson and Moorhead) returning to the cult they escaped from after ten years so that the younger of the pair (Moorhead) can seek closure to that period of their lives, as he was too young to fully remember it.
There is a lot to like about this movie. Moorhead’s cinematography is gorgeous and, at times, plays with the distortion of reality through the visuals. Benson’s directing is just as capable, crafting a consistent story and coaxing some wonderful performances from the actors, including himself as Benson also has a real cinematic charisma to him. A caveat to this is that the film suffers from the slow pace endemic to films made for festival entry. I appreciate a slow-building horror story as much as anyone, but this could have lost the first half hour with an easy edit of the script or the film and prevented the movie ballooning out to 2 hours.
Callie Hernandez (Alien: Covenant), Tate Ellington (Shameless) and Kira Powell (a relative newcomer worth keeping an eye on) provide wonderfully nuanced portrayals of the cult members, bringing a key sense of credibility to roles which could have easily come off as cartoonish.The inclusion of Emily Montague (Fright Night) and previous Benson and Moorhead collaborators Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran, while a cute nod to Benson and Moorhead’s previous feature Resolution, almost detracts from the film as a whole, hinting at a more developed story going on just off-screen.
Overall, The Endless already feels like the early work of a group of people who went on to do better things. I would really like to see Benson and Moorhead work from a script they didn’t write, or for Benson to act in someone else’s movie. But for now, this movie is one for the horror deep-divers in search of something interesting, but not necessarily enjoyable.
The Endless is screening at Cinema Nova now. Show times and tickets are available from the Cinema Nova website.