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The Endless (2017)

The Endless

dirs. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. USA, 2017

A likable indie comedy about sibling rivalry and finding your niche in life, The Endless is also the best movie so far about Yog-Sothoth. Neither side of the movie is trying to parody or undermine the other. The Endless actually steers H. P. Lovecraft's post-human perspective into a zone that's funny, tender, and familiar. It's also notable as “footage” horror that reflects on the processes of cinema, yet remains scary.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead star as two brothers in their early thirties, sharing a crap apartment, and trying to make a living with a cleaning van that scrubs out other crap apartments on the flip between tenants. They're like janitors in their own jail. Their social life consists of weekly dates with “cult exit” therapists. A decade ago, when they were both teenagers, the bossier, knows-better brother pulled them out of an isolated religious commune in which they were raised after their parents died. This fact continues to define their adult identities, as “cult survivors.”

When the more quiet and sensitive brother learns that the cult still exists, he starts to ask himself if they have really escaped to a better life, and he persuades his brother to go return for just one day. They are welcomed back to an appealing Portlandia of cool people who sell craft beer to support their art projects. The alpha brother is confounded by the benign survival of what he has been telling everyone for years is a “UFO death cult.” Veteran players of Call of Cthulhu, however, will suspect that the unnameable god which will someday return is real, and even that “someday” may have already happened. It's hard to tell sustainable living from cosmic entropy when you're dealing with a force that, in the words of one of its babbling victims, “uses time and space like a horsewhip.”

But most of the cult members are happy as never before. In place of Lovecraft's pulp-racist characterization of the bad guys, the servants of the unseen power present a challenge to the spiritual complacency of the heroes and the audience. The challenge comes from an ensemble cast, including Tate Ellington, Callie Hernandez and Kira Powell, whose cult members come through the prism between saintly, vulnerable, and weird.

The Endless is an actor's horror movie, and an intricate head trip of a role-playing scenario, so viewers who think of Lovecraft as a source of slimy monsters may feel burned. In fact, Benson and Moorhead are loyal to Lovecraft's stages of initiation into “cosmic terror.” His gods can only be known by their works, and to know them is to be changed by them. It's perhaps a little rare in horror that the writers and directors are also the leads who understand what they're supposed to be reacting to, and who will be the first to crash if the make-believe falls flat. Moorhead and Benson's sibling rivalry is consistently funny, yet we also learn to read it as two faces of anxiety. Their dilemma of whether to struggle in the mundane world, or plunge into an alternative life based on religion, is warm and recognizable as the horror of decision. It makes the brothers' curiosity and persistence more believable than the usual horror movie courting of danger. They're the Lovecraft hero in everyone.

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