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Unpacking That Big Twist in The Endless

This post includes major spoilers for The Endless.

In 2012, a science-fiction–horror hybrid called Resolution hit theaters. The first film from directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, it follows a pair of longtime friends holed up in an isolated, dilapidated house; the sober one, Mike (Michael Danube), is forcing his crack addict buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to quit cold turkey. As the two men reconnect in the throes of Chris’s withdrawals, they’re stalked by an ominous, unseen force that only makes its presence known through sinister offerings, like videos that play horrifying scenes from the men’s possible futures. The twisting, mysterious plot culminates with Chris and Mike attempting to flee the drug den, only to be overtaken by a massive entity that sends both cowering as the movie cuts to black. It’s a powerful declaration for two first-time filmmakers delivering original material — and a very good movie.

Now, Moorhead and Benson are back with their third feature (their second, Spring, was released in 2014, and tells the story of a boy who goes to Italy and falls for a woman who’s actually a shape-shifting mutant). In the tradition of these first films, The Endless is a genre mash-up that drops a trail of breadcrumbs in hopes of leading its audience to the great mystery at its core. This time around, Benson and Moorhead star as brothers Justin and Aaron. It’s been a decade since the fictional brothers fled the “death cult,” a remote Southern California commune called Camp Arcadia where they were raised, but they’ve had trouble getting their lives on track in the intervening years. When they receive a tape from one of the members they left behind, the brothers decide to go back for one weekend, in an attempt to finally get closure on their dark pasts.

The Endless is an immersive puzzle of a movie, and if you’re a fan of Moorhead and Benson’s filmography, it also feels familiar. Not just in an aesthetic way, but in a déjà vu kind of way — as the tension mounts in the last third of the film, a massive Easter egg is unveiled for those passionate few Resolution devotees out there. Much to the surprise of Aaron and Justin, all that sky worshipping at Camp Arcadia wasn’t rubbish after all. Throughout the movie, the environment around them reveals one inexplicable phenomenon after another; eventually, the brothers learn that Arcadia exists in a kind of bubble that’s stuck in a time loop (which is why all the camp residents look so well-preserved). The Arcadians aren’t sacrificing themselves like some Heaven’s Gate knockoff cult — they live in a sort of space-time rift governed by a force that restarts their timeline every ten years, and that rift exists alongside a cluster of other time bubbles that run in their own loops. Some of them last seconds, some last hours, and in the case of Resolution’s Chris and Mike — whom Aaron and Justin stumble upon in that same crack den — it lasts for seven days. As Endless reveals, for five years since the first movie (Endless made its festival premiere in 2017), Chris and Mike have been living the same week over and over and over again, trying to find a way out.

In other words, five years after their first film concluded with an enigmatic flourish, Moorhead and Benson have brought Chris and Mike back in a crossover event with The Endless. “There’s something kind of punk rock about doing a universe on a micro-budget,” Benson tells Vulture. “I have never heard of it before, so I thought, ‘Oh, that’s kind of fun.’” To be clear, though, The Endless is not a sequel to Resolution; both movies exist fully on their own. It’s not a continuation, either. The Endless isn’t a long con the filmmakers planned to wrap up their first film — not least of all because they didn’t know if their first movie would be their only shot. “We didn’t know if we’d ever be able to make a movie again,” Moorhead says of their plans after making Resolution, which only had a $20,000 budget. “We were like, ‘Well, back to our jobs.’ ”

So at what point in the story does The Endless start tipping its hand? “Literally the first frame,” says Benson. “It’s the second shot of the movie.” But if you haven’t watched Resolution again in the six years since it came out, you would understandably miss the fact that the newspapers announcing their escape from the camp feature images of Moorhead and Benson from when they appeared in that first movie, as clean-cut cult disciples who prosthelytize to Mike in the wilderness. “That’s literally the footage,” says Benson. “The flashbacks of our characters in the beginning, that is actually a [behind the scenes] shot right before we shot our scene in Resolution in 2011.”

If you’re clued in to the big twist, all sorts of Endless details start taking on additional meaning. The fact that Aaron and Justin are summoned back to Arcadia by a video message that none of the camp members claim to have sent is a callback to Mike receiving a distressing video of Chris tweaking in the woods, which is what set him on a mission to sober up his friend in Resolution. And each of those messages was shot from the point of view of the unseen force. In their pursuit to unpack the mystery of Arcadia in Endless, Aaron recovers a hidden video buried at the bottom of a lake that actually plays back footage from Resolution, and there’s even an at-long-last appearance by the oft-cited Moorhead and Benson character Shitty Carl (who gets shout-outs in each of their first two films).

Because The Endless was built from the extensive bible created for Resolution — Moorhead says there was a “a massive amount of mythology” to draw from — it’s not so much about shared plot elements as shared connective tissue. (The terrain looks the same in both movies, too, because they were shot within walking distance of each other, and the film team actually stayed on the Camp Arcadia grounds to make Resolution.) You don’t need one to watch the other, but they act as fun decoder rings if you’re in the know.

“There are probably like, literally, a thousand points of continuity between Resolution and The Endless if you want to look for them,” Benson explains. “But the thing is, most people haven’t seen that movie, and most people will never even know that movie exists. So, in terms of why we decided to tell another story using that setting in that world in that universe, it was more about using it as a point of inspiration for ourselves, and making sure simultaneously that it’s not so inside or esoteric that anyone can just turn on The Endless and watch it. There is no reason to make a sequel to [Resolution]. There’s no reason to use IP, but if it inspires you? Cool.”

Let’s Unpack That Big Twist in The Endless