The Endless is another hugely absorbing mind-bender of a movie created by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, both of whom play the story’s main characters using their own first names. This indie sci-fi gem tells the story of two siblings who 10 years earlier managed to escape from an apparent “UFO death cult” in Camp Arcadia situated somewhere in Southern California. Having led dead-end lives and failed to have risen above menial work in the outside world, they eventually return to the camp for closure after receiving a cryptic video apparently sent by one of the cult members.
Once there, they are welcomed warmly enough by their former commune compadres, who seem to be remarkably well-preserved and living idyllic lives. A series of unexplained phenomena taking place around the camp, however, adds to their growing sense of unease and discomfort, with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft at the film’s opening hinting of an elder god’s hand in the truth behind the seemingly impossible mystery.
As the tale progresses, we discover that the disparate group of people within Camp Arcadia and its local area are trapped within time loops of varying lengths governed by their size. Those living in the camp, for instance, experience a ten-year loop cycle, while the most extreme loop we encounter is one lasting a mere five seconds and confined to a small tent in the woods. Moreover, those trapped within time travel loops, demarcated by strange-looking sticks, are physically unable to leave its perimeter.
Naturally, those people trapped within a ten-year loop appear calm with less of a price to pay for their immortality. As we see, many have mastered various talents, such as archery, art, magic tricks, brewing, mathematics, etc, and are generally accepting of their lot. Other people, on the other hand, are trapped within smaller loops, such as Shitty Carl, who used to exploit Camp Arcadia and its surroundings for money, but has since become trapped within a nearby restrictive three-hour cycle, representing a cause of constant frustration for the sneering character.
Other people we are introduced to are former best friends Chris and Michael, who are trapped within a week-long loop around their shack in a remote rural area. As we learned in a prequel movie called Resolution, Chris went to visit his junkie friend in order to help end his drug addiction, only for things to take a turn for the worse after the constant discovery of creepy videos and ominous threats directed at them from an unknown source.
Unlike many other time loop genres, people around Camp Arcadia and its surrounding area appear able to recollect past cycles. In the main camp, for example, its inhabitants have mastered a range of different talents, and at one point Shane hints about having spent a million hours mastering his magic tricks. In the meantime, Tim seems to be one of the group’s oldest members and appears to have been stuck in a time loop since at least the 1800s.
Even Shitty Carl in his three-hour loop is able to draw a map of other loops in the surrounding area to guide Justin on his way through the local terrain, while the unfortunate tent guy, perhaps a frontiersman from the 19th century, knows enough of what’s going to be driven out of his mind and warn Aaron away from the area.
Back at the shack, Chris recalls having been stuck in a loop for many weeks, although his disoriented junkie friend Michael seems to have more difficulty remembering previous loops at the start of each reset. At one point, Chris states that he’d go crazy if he has to listen one more time to Michael being surprised to see him at the start of a new cycle. The friends don’t seem to have been there as long as many others we have seen, though, and as Moorhead explained in a recent interview “they’re still very optimistic, and they’re trying to find the Rubik’s Cube-esque way to escape it.”
A malevolent supernatural entity lies at the heart of the mystery, which enjoys holding its victims captive and watching their actions and trials before killing them and resetting their loops. It also derives pleasure from communicating with its captives through different media and using videos, photographs, and computer files to manipulate and torments them into meeting various horrific ends for its own amusement. Aaron and Justin, for instance, were lured back to Camp Arcadia after receiving an old video that they assumed was sent by one of their old friends back in the commune.
This oppressive entity has pushed some victims into taking their own lives in order to prevent experiencing a far worse fate. An example of this would be Chris and Michael, who burnt themselves alive after viewing their latest video finding which was punctuated by horrific screams of pain and terror and ended with Chris pleading to be allowed to try another way. But by doing so they merely ended up resetting their own loops prematurely and returning to the beginning of their cycle once more. That said, many of the people we witnessed committing suicide, such as Carl or Chris, also did so as an act of defiance against the sinister, omniscient entity.
One of the best theories I have read concerning the origin of the entity was proposed by someone called ObeseMorese on Reddit. Evidently an avid Lovecraft fan, the poster believes it was likely one of Lovecraft’s ageless gods that have existed since the beginning of all things. More precisely, he believes it to be Yog-Sothoth, whom Lovecraft described as the god of time within which the past, present, and future are one. As a gatekeeper between realities, however, Yog-Sothoth cannot render itself in its complete physical form within our reality, and as ObeseMorese wrote:
“Yog-Sothoth is also commonly mentioned as being a god that our brain interprets as being a series of concentric circles, globes or spheres. This explains the circular patterns that surround all the “loops” of time in the story, and also likely shines some light on how time actually operates in Lovecraft’s world.”
The deity’s favor can only be bought with eternal servitude or human sacrifice, and as Moorhead explains; “To get stuck, you have to submit yourself to the deity, or get killed in a loop.” This would then explain why the cult back at Camp Arcadia are prepared to be consumed by the entity and are therefore rewarded with a larger more utopian loop. The other characters we encounter, on the other hand, are tormented and still continue to resist its will.
A decade earlier, Justin and Aaron originally left Camp Arcadia right before the cultist’s loop was reset following their obliteration around the campfire. At the beginning of The Endless we then saw the brothers get there a few days before the next reset, with the movie subsequently ending with Justin and Aaron apparently managing to outrun the entity and escape being trapped within a time loop, while the cultist’s 10-year loop resets again.
While it’s good to imagine the brothers managed to escape, it is equally possible that they instead remain unknowingly trapped within a larger time loop of their own. This may be borne out by the fact the cultists seem to be gathering around their perimeter and awaiting Justin and Aaron’s arrival once more at the end of the movie. Furthermore, during an early scene in which the brothers stopped at their mother’s shrine you see their car facing away from some sloped mountains in the background, but following their apparent escape they seem to be heading towards a different set of mountains, suggesting they, in fact, may be driving back towards Camp Arcadia. Then there is the mysterious comment about the car’s gas gauge always being on empty. If they are still trapped, it would appear that they both may have died while trying to exit the perimeter, therefore creating their own loop, or alternatively that they were already trapped inside a loop which was then merely reset with them at its edge after their attempted exit.