As I’m sitting here writing my review of this movie about a cult, the news just did a story about the 25th anniversary of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas that ended in a raid, gun battle, and fire that killed David Koresh and 75 others, including children.
Locally, we’ve got the Yellow Deli in Vista and one in Valley Center, which has sandwiches everyone loves, and is run by a religious cult. Of course, when it comes to local cults, nothing beats the craziness of Heaven’s Gate in Rancho Santa Fe. In 1997, Marshall Applewhite and his 38 UFO-worshipping followers (the males had all been castrated) all killed themselves so their souls could join a UFO they believed to be following the Hale-Bopp Comet as it passed by.
So it’s perfect that two local filmmakers would tackle a “UFO Death Cult” in their third film. The idea of a movie about cults wouldn’t have sounded appealing to me years ago. Then Brit Marling (Arbitrage, I Origins), did a couple cult movies I loved (The East, Sound of My Voice). And this movie reminded me of those last two films. Each was made on a really small budget, but have stories that you’ll be thinking and talking about for days after you see them.
The Endless starts with Aaron Smith opening a package containing an old videotape with a message from a member of the cult he and his brother escaped from a decade earlier. The woman on the tape seems to imply that a suicide pact is in place. Aaron has to convince his brother Justin, whom he lives and works with, that they should go back. At this point, you’re immediately drawn in, in the best way possible. You’re asking yourself why anybody that escaped something like that would go back. Especially when the story had been plastered all over the news and showed the cult in a bad light.
So with reluctance from Justin, it’s back to Camp Arcadia they go. You see a guy near the front of the camp with a weird smile, and one of the brother says “Nothing cult-y about that.”
It’s at that point I was thrilled, realizing these filmmakers weren’t just going to show a couple of dudes going and getting themselves into some insane scenario with the audience wondering why anybody would do that. There’s nothing more frustrating than when a horror movie shows a woman in high heels walking down into a dark basement to figure out what that noise was. These guys are humorous, there are gorgeous women, guys singing “House of the Rising Sun” with guitars around the campfire. And they make good money with a home brew they sell. Folks, this is commune living at its best. Well, it’s not all S’mores and booze. Some weird things start to happen. I won’t divulge them, because this is one of those movies that saying anything about would ruin your experience of watching it unfold. There was one scene, that involves an old phonograph in a tent, with a guy that looks to be from the early 1900s, killing himself. You’ll see that scene a few different times, and it’s one of the most interesting scenes I’ve seen on screen in years. So perfectly done, especially for the mind tricks in this story.
There’s one scene where you see two moons, and that may make some think of Star Wars. I thought of Another Earth (another Brit Marling film).
There’s a scene with a guy chained inside a cabin, because his buddy wants him to kick a heroin habit (which reminded me a bit of Samuel Jackson chaining up Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan). The cavalier nature at which the chained up redneck speaks to the new guy…is hysterical. It’s so refreshing when filmmakers know how to deliver comedy. Especially after I just saw a few disappointing comedies coming out this weekend.
When the movie ended, my wife and I had the most fun debate about the final scene. It was a perfect way to end a film like this, and it’s the type of experience you want after seeing a movie. You want to spend the next few hours talking about it. At one point, she said, “It reminded me a bit of Lost.” I replied, “I never watched Lost, but it reminded me of the Laurence Fishburne indie movie The Signal.” She had never seen that.
I did feel it got a little crazier than I would’ve preferred later in the film; yet it’s also refreshing that the filmmakers don’t bog us down with expositional stuff, or try to explain every little thing. Sometimes it’s fun thinking about how they did the tug of war scene with a huge rope hanging down from the sky. The atmosphere created at Camp Arcadia is the perfect blend of happiness and dread.
The terrific film score is done by Jimmy LaValle from the local band The Album Leaf.
A few others in the cast include Tate Ellington (The Kitchen) and Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch).
Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson as the brothers have great chemistry together on screen, and they obviously know what they’re doing behind the scenes (they wrote the script, filmed and edited it, etc). This is their third movie together (Spring, Resolution), and it makes me want to seek out their two earlier pictures, and has me anxiously awaiting film number four.
You’ll be able to catch this movie at the Angelika Film Center, and after the Saturday (4/21) night showing at 7 p.m., I’ll be doing a Q&A with Benson & Moorehead (which sounds like the name of a cigarette company, or a law firm).
The movie gets 3 ½ stars, and that’s the highest rating out of the other five movies I reviewed coming out this weekend.