Review of The Endless (2017)
Seen in 2019.
Two people left Camp Arcadia ten years ago. One of them says he remembers the place as a death cult. The other, too young to really know what happened at the time, suggests they go back.
The first half is nice. I like the quasi-naturalistic acting of the actor-directors—though not their comedy—and I applaud their decision to have the main characters be ordinary: Two plain, working-class Shmoes without special talents or destinies, stuck in a rut. Even their unusual history turns out to be false in part. Hitching that setup to a Lovecraftian mystery looks awesome on paper. Indeed, the film opens with the classic quote from HPL’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927). Alas, the duo doesn’t deliver.
At the cult compound, one of the weirdo residents talks about the supernatural force there as something out of Tolkien or H. P. Lovecraft, but as it turns out, the threat is neither numinous nor cosmic. The threat is, arguably, a servicable metaphor for the aimless life of the precariat, but that metaphor quickly breaks down: It has no relationship with the marked paths, the monster’s range of photographic technologies, the cult itself, the Rorschach pattern in the lake, the duplicate moons or Hal’s equations. All of that stuff is fake mystery. Like Dhalgren (1975) it’s pointless, having neither solution nor relevance nor an alternative point. The centre of The Endless is just the run of the mill in genre horror, like the violence and the stupid final chase.
Hal indirectly conflates his lack of answers with his non-leadership of the cult. This is the filmmakers’ defence of obscurantism. They may have glanced at Lovecraft but they rejected his perspective completely. They may have glanced at Primer (2004) and tried to copy its atmosphere, but they rejected its elegance and intelligence completely. The last half is pretty uniformly bad. Mike burning down his friend’s house in shitty CGI looks a lot worse than The Sacrifice (1986). In the end, the economic angle is sadly peripheral and nothing replaces it.