This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 15th February 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
When I was 15 or so I convinced several friends of mine to chip in on a video. This was not porn or the latest Thundergun Express movie or anything like that. It was UFO Secrets of the Third Reich. My pitch, aided by the small island we lived on and the hardy sense of self-created fun it raised in us, was pretty simple.
‘It’s called UFO SECRETS OF THE THIRD REICH! How could we not?!’
We did, it was rubbish in the BEST way. I swear there was a scientist interviewed whose parting changed position every time the camera cut back to him. It cut back to him a LOT.
I never persuaded anyone else to chip in on terrible videos so that project went out on a high (Well…I say high…) but I read books, watched documentaries and finally burned myself out on UFOlogy. Because the aliens were always just about to land. The truth was always out there and the truth was never, ever getting any closer. Always just out of focus. Always appearing in front of cameras with low batteries. Always one eye witness and 15,000 versions of the same story.
The Endless has read all those stories and come up with something better. Something that begins where they all end; on an old videotape.
Justin and Aaron (Played by directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Moorhead also scripted the movie) are brothers who escaped from what Justin convinced the media was a UFO death cult, They eke out a painfully average life in the real world. For Justin, it’s better or at least better enough. For Aaron, it’s a prison locking him away from the friends, good food and creative freedom he remembers. He pesters his brother. They go back for a visit and then things…curdle.
Moorhead’s script, and Benson and Moorhead’s performances give the movie a strong foundation of naturalistic dialogue and deadpan humor that brings the horror that follows into sharp focus. They’re instantly believable as a pair of brothers and Benson in particular has wonderful, laconic comic timing. The core dynamic is always Aaron’s enthusiasm versus Justin’s total lack of it and it’s always fun, often very funny and leads to a deeply heartfelt and wonderfully real moment between them in the closing scenes. They’re both painfully normal. They’re both…kind of assholes, really. They’re also the only thing the other has and their bond, and love, is one of the most interesting male relationships I’ve seen in movies.
This all plays out against a backdrop of polite, increasingly disturbing cosmic horror. The movie opening with an HP Lovecraft quote is going to ring alarm bells for some folks but ,power through, this is much more interesting than HPL’s squamous and rugose checklist of atrocity. The cult are perfectly happy and the reasons for that, and the experiences they have unfold with the pacing equivalent of perfect pitch. The scene the shot above is from is incredibly unsettling and all it is is a rope in the night. A later moment in the lake, the contents of a nearby tent and Justin’s quest for a gun are all even more disturbing and all feed back into the same central concept and that same core relationship. This isn’t horror as invasive force, it’s horror as canvas and the movie is as concerned with Justin and Aaron’s determination to live as it is with the forces messing with them. It also provides definitive, focused answers to every question you have, in a manner that’s funny and terrifying at the same time. This really is a hidden treasure of a movie and one I’m hopeful will find the audience it richly deserves. It’s no UFO Secrets of the Third Reich but, unlike my 15 year old self, I know that’s a very good thing.
The Endless is on Netflix, Prime Video and physical disc now.