This Is a Movie Review: Under the Silver Lake

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Under the Silver Lake is Inherent Vice crossed with The Shining.

Shaggy dog mysteries (which seem to exclusively be set in L.A.) have their charms, but they also have an underlying sense of frustration because the mystery is most definitely never solved satisfyingly, or at least not transparently. But they act like they want to solve the mystery. In the case of Under the Silver Lake, though, it’s clearly more satisfying to leave everything confusing. With his tendency to beat people up for minor offenses, Sam (Andrew Garfield) is certainly not a nice person, so it’s fitting that he doesn’t find all the answers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some sort of “conspiracy,” or at least conspiracy-ish happening or series of happenings, going on. Disappearing Neighbor Riley Keough may be part of only a small portion of the whole tapestry. Sam enters Shining territory as his experience of supernatural occurrences feel inextricable from the real thing. He seems to have crossed through a looking glass wherein he might as well have been a part of all this for all eternity, especially considering his aimlessness. It’s an unmoored journey that I enjoyed.

I give Under the Silver Lake 400 Numbers out of 500 Questions.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Endless’ Upends Tropes About Cults and Then Melts Your Brain

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This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Tate Ellington, Callie Hernandez, Lew Temple, James Jordan

Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated, But I Would Peg It at PG-13 for General Eeriness and Some Unhinged Behavior

Release Date: April 6, 2018 (Limited)

I am writing this review about a month after seeing The Endless. I knew that it was probably going to be a while before I got around to this write-up, so to remind myself what I wanted to say, I left myself the note “Big ideas that might or might not be fully fleshed out.” And now that I have had extra time to mull it all over, I have come to the conclusion that those big ideas were indeed successfully fully fleshed out. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who co-directed and co-star, are a dynamic duo here to upend your genre expectations.

The pull of religious cults has been a major part of American culture and history, and its portrayal in film and TV has been more or less codified into a particular routine. And at first, it seems like that is what The Endless is going for. Benson and Moorhead play brothers Justin and Aaron Smith; the actors and characters sharing the same first names lends a sort of faux true-life docudrama feel that low-budget indies often aim for. They grew up in a commune that has survived living off the grid by brewing and selling its own beer. Justin eventually wised up to the brainwashing that he was certain was going on and pulled himself and Aaron out of the commune and into a life on their own. But that has come to mean frequent joblessness and dire financial straits.Aaron yearns to return to the bonhomie and relative security of the commune, questioning whether or not it really is a cult. Nudging him along is a videotape they have just received featuring a woman from the commune (Callie Hernandez) prophesying the imminent arrival of “the Ascension,” the type of mysterious, perhaps apocalyptic event that cults tend to prophesy about.

Justin concedes to Aaron’s request, with the firm caveat that this will be a quick visit. Justin’s warnings are seemingly confirmed by the cultish welcoming vibe spiked with an undercurrent of creepiness and manipulative tests of character. But a few foreboding signs that could just be illusions – a tossed baseball stuck in the air, a rope pulled by an unseen force, two moons in the sky – suggest that something stranger and more sinister is actually going on. Some of the phenomena that takes place cannot be explained by human trickery, and at a certain point The Endless swerves hard (but naturally) into a completely different movie – something much more mind-bending and uniquely satisfying. The commune appears to have established in another realm of existence where the laws of time and space have been folded in on themselves. To go into more detail would ruin much of the fun of discovery, but suffice it to say this is a sort of Twilight Zone of indie film, and perhaps the best example of that description that I have ever seen.

The Endless is Recommended If You Like: The pipes from Super Mario World, Another Earth, Primer

Grade: 4 out of 5 Multiple Moons