Everyone’s life includes regrets both great and small: choices that could have gone the other way, paths not taken, opportunities squandered, tragedies that could have been prevented. How we live with those has a funny way of defining the kind of person we ultimately become. But it also fuels that universal fantasy of being able to go back in time to do things over, which itself fuels the aphorism of being careful of what one wishes for. After all, what if taking the road not traveled leads us to even greater ruin or disappointment? What if chasing a life free of regret only opens us to even deeper sorrow and suffering? And what’s worse – what if we had no choice in the matter? What if we had to relive our greatest choices over and over again without any kind of deliverance from the same outcome? These kinds of questions provide a most fertile landscape for an especially unlikely mash-up of science fiction and horror in which every choice one makes isn’t just a flip between possible roads ahead. It is a piece of evidence for one’s own damnation. Behold the low-key mind-bender, The Endless.
The story involves Justin and Aaron, two adult brothers who, ten years before, were members of Camp Arcadia, a strange commune-like group of uncertain origins and intent. Ultimately, the brothers left/escaped Arcadia in dramatic fashion that earned them a lot of unwelcome media attention for a time, and condemned them to a life of isolated poverty ever since. When they get a tape from Arcadia that looks like some kind of group suicide note, Aaron convinces Justin that they should return to the Camp, if only to see how their former Arcadians are doing. But what is supposed to be a simple day trip to the camp becomes much more as the brothers begin to notice things are not exactly normal at their old home. Nobody there has aged a day over the last decade. There are two moons in the sky. People play tug-of-war with an unseen entity in the sky. There is some kind of monster at the bottom of the lake. And that’s just the beginning of the weirdness. As Justin and Aaron begin to unravel the secrets and mysteries that define Camp Arcadia, they must confront some uncomfortable truths about themselves. All this, under the increasingly horrifying realization that under the right conditions, having all the time in the world is somebody’s version of Hell on Earth.
Justin and Aaron’s adventure might bring them to a deeply weird place where the laws of time and space seem to be more like loopholes to be exploited, but what gives this story more gravity than any of that is the connection between our main characters. From small moments where a simply haircut turns to shenanigans to deep catharsis over whether one ought to be taking care of the other, Justin and Aaron bring forth a genuine examination of how living with, by and for one’s sibling can be a path fraught with tension and second-guessing. Of special interest here is a long-smoldering conflict between Justin and Aaron that the trip to Camp Arcadia will either extinguish once and for all, or blow it into an inferno. Turns out, the decision to leave Arcadia might not have been as mutually agreed-upon as it first appears, and the open question of whether it makes sense to stay there is one strangely devoid of an easy answer. Both Justin and Aaron carry a lot of weight together, but in so doing, seem to be shifting it to each other’s backs all the time, as well.
Whatever their difficulties, though, the brothers love each other, and their unwillingness to leave either one behind drives the narrative tension that builds up as the unexplained and the unexplainable begins to pile up all around them at Camp Arcadia. In pretty short order, the various things our brothers encounter fail to triangulate around a central thing that binds them together in some kind of context they understand. Oh, there is a there there, but it is itself so unknowable and so casually malevolent that it brings to mind the kind of horror in which the more one realizes how small they are against the scope of the cosmos, the more the cosmos itself becomes a source of terror. By the time we have figured out enough to want to know more, we begin to feel that no, we’re good. We’ve learned enough, thanks. Can we just get the hell out of here, please?
As Justin and Aaron wander the camp trying to understand what is going on, they encounter all kinds of people who live under disturbingly recursive conditions. Despite the purpose-driven nature of Camp Arcadia, it would seem that there is no real reason for why the camp’s many extended guests are there. What feels like some kind of meditation on right and wrong, cause and effect, acceptance and growth…it is really none of those things. It’s just an extended object lesson in what it feels like when humans suddenly get to feel what it’s like to be a bug repeatedly trapped under a glass, set free and recaptured because the kid looming over them is bored. We see it in a moment of truth when Justin walks past a lone shack that beats out a steady metronome of suffering and begins to understand what fate awaits him and his brother if they can’t break out of their own endless cycle. Their relationship with Camp Arcadia might be a metaphor for the destructive loops we all find ourselves in from time to time, but the scariest part about it is how sometimes the will to live comes too little, too late, and we get just enough clarity to understand why we are being destroyed as it happens. Self-awareness might be a survival skill, but against certain oblivion, ignorance is bliss.