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‘The Endless’ delves deep into paradox of time travel

June 30, 2018

For the past year, a small, independent science fiction film has been garnering an ever-growing fanbase since its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017. While indie thrillers such as "Heredity" and "A Quiet Place" have been earning their share of box office bona fides, "The Endless" will make its debut on DVD and on demand this week.

But according to Rotten Tomatoes, "The Endless" remains the highest-rated science fiction/horror film this year, with a 96 percent approval rating. And while it may not have had the same chance to garner an audience at the theater, it certainly deserves attention.

In 2004, another similarly themed film called "Primer" collected the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film's writer/director/star Shane Carruth followed up in 2013 with "Upstream Color." The film was widely embraced by critics and actually trended higher on Twitter than the Sundance Film Festival in which it premiered.

Likewise, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead write, direct, produce and star in their films, which started with 2012 "Resolution," an indie horror film that earned acclaim in various horror-themed festivals and gave them a spot at the esteemed Toronto International Film Festival for their next release, 2014's "Spring."

"Spring" was also noted for its ability to twist and bend genres in a highly intelligent fashion while remaining entertaining, funny and visionary.

In "The Endless," the two directors play brothers Justin and Aaron Smith, who managed to escape from a cult 10 years ago and are working menial jobs between going to deprogramming meetings to help them reacclimate to the real world.

Younger brother Aaron still romanticizes the life they led there, and is tempted to return "just to get closure."

A mysterious video the two receive prompts Justin to accompany his brother to ensure that he does not fall into the camp's clutches once again.

They return to find life there unchanged, with even the current members seemingly unaged from the day they left. The group speaks of an "ascension," which echoes the infamous Heaven's Gate cult of the late 1990s, and Justin fears the same fate awaits this group.

If this all seems rather pulpy and well-trodden ground, I can promise you that "The Endless" is far from it. Delving deep into the paradox of time travel and sculpted with an impeccable set and sound design, "The Endless" represents the best of a genre that many dismiss as far too formulaic.

I am being deliberately cagey about the nuances of the film, as they are best entered into with as little knowledge as possible.

Benson and Moorhead prove that they have a lot to say and can do so with a limited budget. "The Endless" is only their third outing, but it demonstrates a mastery and confidence that many with decades of experience under their belt would kill for. If you are an adventurous filmgoer with a penchant for witnessing emerging talents before they explode, you'd be safe to bet on Benson and Moorhead, as they continually craft uniquely engaging genre films that will only allow them to operate under the radar for a limited time.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.