Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tribeca ’17: The Endless

Maybe the hippie commune Justin Smith rescued his younger brother Aaron from was not quite the “castrating doomsday UFO cult” he thought it was, but you still would not call it a New Religious Movement. Regardless, the brothers are probably not being unduly alarmist when they assume the worst from a “goodbye” video they receive from a former friend. Against the older brother’s better judgement, they will visit their former “family” before they “ascend” in Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless, which screens during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Frankly, one look at the smiling tool standing at the gate of Camp Arcadia would have made us do an immediate one-eighty. The anti-social fellow who keeps brusquely walking in straight lines is also rather off-putting. However, Anna, their big sister figure is as lovely and welcoming as ever—and she hardly seems to have aged at all.

In contrast, life has been hard for the brothers in the years that followed their Camp Arcadia escape. In fact, Aaron remembers the plentiful food and kumbaya gatherings rather fondly. Justin was hoping their visit would serve as an antidote to his nostalgia, but it might have the opposite effect. However, after the older brother gets the heave-ho from Arcadia, he stumbles into the truth. The real secret of Camp Arcadia is truly Hellish in a Sisyphean sense, but the camper cultists have embraced it out of their warped hippy spirituality.

There is no question the big reveal and its implications takes a while to unpack. However, it mostly all tallies, once you account for the varying severity of the x-factor in question. In any event, the cosmic scope and ambition of Endless are quite impressive, especially considering the intimate scale of the drama. Filmmaking partners Benson and Moorhead are terrific as the Smith Brothers. They really demonstrate the fine line between love and resentment, constantly crossing over and back. Perhaps drawing on their experience making Resolution, Spring, and the “Bonestorm” segment of V/H/S Viral, B&M really project a sense of the brothers’ long, chaotic shared history together.

In all honesty, The Endless is one of the more intelligent and emotionally sophisticated genre films you will see all year, but it has received unfairly middling notices thus far at Tribeca. This may well be due to the cult-themed subject matter. At a time when the advocacy-media is promoting large-scale demonstrations, any film that problematizes acquiescence to the moral judgement of the collective unit is likely to face instinctive resistance, so to speak.

That will be a real shame if it successfully dampens the enthusiasm of fans of Benson & Moorhead’s prior films. Smart, tense, and psychologically realistic, The Endless is highly recommended for fans of cult movies (in both senses) when it screens again tonight (4/26) and Saturday (4/29), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.