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The Endless   Well Go USA Blu ray     2017    

                                                 Shared universes or cinematic universes are all the rage although the idea has been around for a long time. The “Star

                                      Trek,” “Star Wars,” James Bond, and “Planet of the Apes” franchises continue to exist because of the shared commonalities of

                                      their mythological worlds. In 2008, Marvel Studios introduced their Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, and in 2014

                                      Universal Studios’ Dracula Untold was to be the building block for their classic monsters “dark universe.” It’s safe to say we

                                      can now add Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s slow burn, Lovecraft-inspired, puzzle box universe to that list.

                                                Brothers Justin and Aaron Smith (Benson and Moorhead, respectively) are living a dead-end existence following their flight from a UFO apocalypse cult a decade earlier. They receive a tape from cult member Anna (Callie Hernandez; Alien: Covenant, 2017) inviting them to return. Aaron is keen to do so in order to find closure and spice up his humdrum life. Justin reluctantly agrees to go along.

            Everything at Camp Arcadia is just as they left it. Like, exactlyas they left it. No one has aged. Rituals and everyday activities continue just as they did a decade before. People have nearly perfected their favorite skills such as archery, card tricks, and music. As the brothers attempt to relax into the all-too-familiar patterns strange things catch their attention. Justin repeatedly encounters the tight-lipped, angry Shitty Carl (James Jordan, Cain from “iZombie”) walking furiously along the same road. Aaron finds photographs of himself, taken from above, at the exact moment he is looking up. Jennifer (Emily Montague; Resolution, 2012), came to the camp looking for her missing husband but now seems ambivalent about leaving. Twisted, totem-like sticks dot the landscape and have the same bizarre effect as the silver poles in the mortuary in Phantasm (1978). A third moon begins to appear in the sky.

            The brothers attempt to leave Camp Arcadia but end up in different places. Justin stumbles upon Shitty Carl’s farm, and the halfcocked loner pleads with Justin to go get a gun from a neighbor. Aaron discovers a cabin where Michael (Peter Cilella; Resolution, 2012; Contracted: Phase 2, 2015), Jennifer’s missing husband, is attempting to help his friend, Chris (Vinny Curran; Resolution, 2012; Spring, 2014), detox from his drug habit. Justin gets the gun from Chris, finds Aaron, and they return to Shitty Carl, who promptly shoots himself in the head. Determined to escape even if it costs them their lives, the brothers race from the commune while a malevolent, unseen entity attempts to reel them back in.

            This summary is a poor attempt at creating something linear out of the delicate skein of interconnected images and ideas that form The Endless. Watching the film is the equivalent of walking up to two people who are in the middle of a conversation. You pick up the conversation at the point you enter, but have to piece together what has been said before you arrived. That’s The Endless.  When it begins, we’re entering a conversation that began back in 2012 with Benson and Moorhead’s Resolution. That filmtold the story of Michael taking Chris into the desert for a week of enforced sobriety where peculiar events began to unwind. With The Endless we see the continuation of that story and learn what has been happening (over and over) since then.

            The Endless plays with our sense of time and space. Invisible zones or “bubbles” of recycled time dot the desert landscape. Characters within them relive the same events over and over—think Groundhog Day (1993) or Edge of Tomorrow (2014) set in the context of Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions (1995), with a healthy dash of Stephen King’s novel “Under the Dome.” Some replay a single hour or day; others go through years before time “resets” itself and things begin all over again. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a needle getting stuck on a record album. The characters are trapped in a repetitive eternity and some (Shitty Carl, Michael) try anything to break themselves out of the loop.

            Shot on digital, the Blu ray brings out the crisp, bright desert imagery, making the viewer feel the hot sun and gritty dust. The visual effects are seamless and do not attract undue attention to themselves. Darkened scenes or night exteriors never swallow up details. Audio options are English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1, and make the most of ambient sounds and Jimmy Lavalle’s score. For a low budget film it has all the polish of an A-list feature.

            The Blu ray is packed with an array of extras and crowned with an audio commentary with Benson, Moorhead and producer David Lawson Jr. (who cameos in the film as “Smiling Dave”). The track is well organized and gives much-needed background on the story. It never lags as the trio discuss funding, production, design and how the story evolved from Resolution. Moorhead and Benson are also on hand for a 31m, 38s “making of” that includes a number of crewmembers discussing their contributions to the project.

            Additional extras are:

              * Two behind-the-scenes segments: a presentation by editor Michael Felker that runs just shy of three minutes; and 10 minutes of outtakes.

              * A collection of deleted scenes (6m, 40s).

              * A breakdown of the visual effects that also comes in just under three minutes.

              * “Ridiculous Extras” is a collection of funny bits and pieces: casting shorts of Smiling Dave (2m, 59s) and Aaron (1m, 32s); “Vinny’s Story”

(9m, 2s), “Breaking the News” (3m, 5s), and the directors’ “UFO Cult Comedy” (3m, 26s).

              * A teaser trailer, regular trailer, and the Tribeca Film Festival promo complete the extras.

          Here’s hoping that the two directors continue to explore and expand their cinematic

universe in future projects. I’m sure we’d all like to know more about who—or what—is creating these infinite time loops. And for what reason.

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