The Endless

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the Unknown.”

[H.P. Lovecraft]

A trilogy of horror and sci-fi that puts Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson alongside Shane Carruth, Brit Marling (w/ Mike Cahill & Zal Batmanglij), and Alex Garland as the pioneering indie American filmmakers of the genre.

The first is Spring (2014): showing glimmers of potential in place of setting and writing (notwithstanding the farfetched City of Angels narrative), the combination of Benson and Moorhead delivered a worthwhile indie romantic body horror that showed future promise fully realized in their recent installment.

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This latest film takes along the continuum of Resolution (2012), where the two main characters (Michael Danube and Chris Daniels) find themselves in a Blair Witch Project-type cabin haunted by a devil of determinancy who shows them their present and future recorded paths in an offer of escape that they appear to never reach.

Resolution

And, yet they reappear in The Endless, confined by the horsewhip of space and time in the same house, seeking to escape the perpetual cycle of events (“Life’s Rubik’s Cube”) begun in the previous film and finding comfort in the repeating forms of suicide as a means to restart the cycle, on their own terms.

As for the others, the two main characters (Moorhead and Benson) find themselves, in the vein of Resolution, called back to a cult-camp by a strange video from an undisclosed sender. Once arrived, one of them is drawn to the allure of the supernatural presence in the camp; while the other, confused and wary, is seeking for an escape. The struggle for self-identity in the atmospheric location that exudes mystery speaks to the repetitive struggle in their own lives and the process of breaking free from their day-to-day “miserable” existence. A powerful concept that could have been fleshed out further concerning our own vocational loops.

endless

The critics have embraced this film and for good reason. Overcoming past budgeting struggles, the combination of Moorhead and Benson have placed themselves alongside other independent filmmakers whose films richly delve into textured storytelling, proving that creative films can be just as effective as studio productions. Sure the acting and the writing is at times ineffectual, but the creativity and ability to paint a tantalizing narrative turns out to be more important.

Phil De Semlyen (Time Out) really nails this: “[t]his impressive low-budget indie starts slowly but gets better and better as it weaves a genre-defying tapestry of weirdness, atmospherics and cultish horrors across a dusty American setting.” This is a special film and certainly a promising start to a much-needed genre in independent filmmaking.

RATING: B-

Cargo

RATING: [A-|🍅]

With the current deluge of zombie stories, it’s rare to see the zombie archetype used anywhere near as effectively as George Romero did in the original Night of the Living Dead. The concept of using some form of “zombie” was originally intended to highlight a growing “all consuming” pastime or behavior that (at least in the writing team’s view) has ingrained itself in the current zeitgeist. For the original Living Dead series, that was consumerism and the pursuit of material comforts; for Cargo, the behavior echoes Romero’s intent while also hinting that people have forgotten how to communicate effectively. But Ben Holwing and Yolanda Ramke add a surprisingly effective and uplifting bit to the archetype: a parent’s undying love for their child. Past these facts, Cargo stands strong as a film in its own right. While this is rare for a genre piece, it’s even rarer for a film that’s distributed almost exclusively through Netflix.

While Cargo is an expanded version of a short film of the same name, the additional time is largely well spent. The story is changed fairly significantly, as would be expected when expanding seven minutes to fill a feature-length time. The addition of Martin Freeman was an odd choice, but one that also added to the impact, as we see his character struggle to adapt to the surrounding reality of apocalyptic Australia. One of the few gripes I have with the film is actually with Freeman’s presentation of mixed emotions. While believable enough and understandable for the circumstances, his acting in particular can come across as somewhat forced. Nitpicks aside, the acting of the cast is still impressive, especially from newcomer, Simone Landers.

Not only does the film accurately tell its story while drawing the audience in, but even avoids many of the all-too-common pitfalls of more recent zombie tales; chief among those, the over embellished focus on the grotesque. Mr. Howling and Ms. Ramke manage to use the violence and gore that is necessary for this type of story in a measured manner and focus more on the actual plot in a way that implies innocence and struggle, rather than comfort and complacency. So much so that it almost gives the film a “feel good” air, which tends to be a running theme with Cargo: keeping hope alive, even in the darkest of circumstances.

Even if you’re one who is growing weary of all the zombie tales that are releasing now, I would encourage you to at least watch the short film for a taste of what zombie films have to offer.

RATING: A-