Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 02, 2018 6:20 am 
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Back to danger. Or is it home?

Justin and Aaron (also the filmmakers) are brothers who ten years ago fled what may have been a "UFO suicide cult" that took then in after their parents died in a car crash. They've received a kind of greeting on a beat-up looking video tape from Anna (Callie Hernandez), a young woman they knew, and Aaron's memories of the "camp" are positive. The brothers' present life, as friendless, dateless drones living by doing low-rent house-cleaning, is a very dreary one. Aaron wants to return, just for a one-day visit, to the place they fled from a decade ago, see what it's like from their perspective now. Justin is very suspicious of the camp, but Aaron is so eager he reluctantly agrees to the car trip back to "Camp Arcadia." When they arrive back, it seems unchanged - and disconcertingly healthy and harmless. Until maybe it isn't. The action is a series of mindbenders and puzzles. Is this home, or underneath is it hell?

Four years ago I reviewed quite favorably this pair's Lovecraftian romance Spring, in which a young man traveling in Italy (Lou Taylor Pucci) falls for a lady who, though she tries to hide it, turns out to be different, to say the least. The mix of romance, fantasy, and horror was delicate and original. I was less impressed this time, even though the pair make use of a wealth of slyly economical special effects. This is a low budget production, and the imaginative way they get around that is a key element in the originality and charm of their work, along with new angles that may pleasingly confound genre expectations.

This is the story of a visit to a spooky place whose exact nature is hard to assess. Is it better, or worse than expected? Wondering what the answer is provides excitement to a succession of scenes and incidents. Whatever "the Ascension" was, it seems it has not happened to the cult as they'd heard. Everything looks surprisingly young, as if they've hardly aged since the young men left, and the leader lacks the menace Justin had remembered. Feelings toward Justin and Aaron among "camp" members seem to vary. Warmth remains, but since the brothers' "escape from UFO death cult" was widely publicized at the time, there is resentment too from high up.

Various moments and characters come and go, including a scene out of Benson-Moorhead's 2013 debut feature, Resolution, involving a meth-head chained to the wall by his best friend in an intervention, repeated renditions of "House of the Rising Sun," sightings of three full moons simultaneously shining in the sky, and many discussions of stuff. For me, I regret to say that nothing much stands out, and it was surprising that the excitement level didn't ramp up more after the first hour as I'd expected. Perhaps some of the ideas, especially the titular one about endless loops, eluded me; much of them seemed more a matter of telling than showing, or horror-fantasy simply isn't my forte.

The central conflict is whether to stay, as Asron continues to want, or go, as Justin stubbornly urges. Aaron chooses to ignore any bad signs and to feel that the sense of belonging and of purpose conveyed here is far superior to their poor life on the outside. Justin stays suspicious and fearful and wants to leave, but agrees to stay another day, and then another. And then. . . things change.

As actors, and as brothers, Moorhead and Benson work well together, but one can't help thinking there was a benefit from the more pro cast in Spring. The sepia cast of the images works well enough - it symbolizes drab lives looking for something more - but still it's, well, drab. Greater genre fans may be more enthusiastic. This pair and their filmmaking team continue to work in a subtle and different way with limited means. Though this is not a breakthrough, it's a promose of working in a coninuing distinctive style.

The Endless, 111 mins., debuted at Tribeca 2017, and showed in two dozen other festivals, some of the sci-fi or fantastic variety. Release by Go USA begins 6 Apr. 2018.

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