Resolution (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (14th July 2018).
The Film

The Endless (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 2017) and Resolution (Benson & Moorhead, 2012)

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s new film The Endless (2017) contains both The Endless and the film to which it may loosely be defined as a sequel, Benson and Moorhead’s Resolution (2012). Whilst The Endless is the main feature within this release, it’s difficult to talk of the two pictures as if they were entirely separate entities.

Resolution focuses on graphic designer Mike Danube (Peter Cilella), who receives a mysterious recording showing his old friend Chris Daniels (Vinny Curran) in a shack in the desert. The footage shows Chris, clearly under the influence of drugs, wielding a shotgun. Leaving his pregnant wife Jennifer (Emily Montague), Mike journeys to Chris’ shack with the intention of forcing Chris to go cold turkey, using a stun gun on Chris and tying him to the frame of the shack.

However, things become slightly more complicated when Mike and Chris’ former schoolmates Billy (Kurt Anderson) and Micah (Skyler Meacham) turn up at the shack, demanding the drugs – or the monetary value of them – that Chris stole from them. Mike and Chris are also visited by Charles (Zahn McClarnon), the owner of the shack, which Charles tells Mike is located on a Native American reservation. Charles demands that Mike and Chris leave, but Mike offers to rent the shack, striking a deal with Charles.

Out walking one day, Mike comes across a trio of members (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead and David Lawson Jr) of the nearby Camp Arcadia, a UFO worshipping cult awaiting the arrival of the ‘Celestial Messiah’. At night, Mike is also woken by a strange woman tapping at the window, who Chris dismisses as ‘probably from the New Age mental health house up the street. They wander out all the time’.

Meanwhile, Mike finds some strange artefacts in an old stone house near the shack: photographs that seem to depict bizarre rituals; strange and eerie analogue audio recordings; photographic slides depicting a Vietnam veteran who hanged himself. Mike learns from Charles that the old stone house was once rented out to ‘a bunch of French students’ who were researching folk tales and whose research centred on nearby caverns which feature some ancient cave paintings.

When Billy and Micah kill a dog who Chris has befriended, Mike buries the creature and takes the dog’s collar to its owner, a French anthropologist named Byron (Bill Oberst, Jr) who lives in a Winnebago. Byron tells Chris that he arrived in the area thirty years prior, along with a group of French students who disappeared into the woods.

Events come to a head when Mike and Chris see a live feed on Mike’s computer which depicts them in the shack. They realise they are being recorded somehow, though there don’t seem to be any recording devices in the building. They fast-forward the footage, which reveals Mike and Chris to be murdered violently by Billy and Micah. Realising this is a premonition of what is to come, Mike and Chris attempt to devise a plan that will help them avoid a violent death.

In The Endless, Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron Smith (Aaron Moorhead) received a mysterious package containing a handicam cassette. After tracking down a device capable of playing the cassette, they discover on it a message from their friend Anna (Callie Hernandez) in Camp Arcadia: Anna is a member of the cult from which Justin helped Aaron escape ten years prior. Since then, the pair have been living unfulfilling lives, consuming an equally unfulfilling diet, and attending deprogramming sessions with psychotherapists. Aaron is unsatisfied with this life, however, and persuades Justin to accompany him on a visit to Camp Arcadia.

Justin acquiesces to Aaron’s demand, and agrees to spend one day and one night at Camp Arcadia. On the journey there, they visit the roadside memorium they left in memory of their mother. Justin also notices some ominous signs: flocks of birds which seem to constantly circle in the same pattern; strange totem-like structures made from volcanic lava.

Upon their arrival at Camp Arcadia, they are met by Hal (Tate Ellington), the camp’s apparent leader, Anna, Shane (Shane Brady) and Lizzy (Kira Powell). Though these members of the group are apparently all in their forties, they look much younger. (‘It’s weird’, Justin observes simply.) Justin tells Hal that he and Aaron returned to the camp because of the video Hal sent; Hal is perplexed and assures Justin that he did not send them a video, and neither did anyone else at the camp.

Justin and Aaron are encouraged to participate in the camp’s rituals, including The Struggle – an event, taking place at night, in which participants are invited to take up one end of a rope that leads into darkness and pull against an opposing force created by a… thing that they cannot see. Hal explains this as a metaphor for ‘The struggle with a higher power’.

The next day, Justin meets Jennifer Danube (Emily Montague), the wife of Mike, the protagonist of Resolution. Jennifer is a recent arrival at Camp Arcadia, having come to the area looking for her husband; Jennifer has clearly lost any sense of time and seems generally confused.

Justin and Aaron take a rowboat out into the middle of the nearby lake, ostensibly to fish, but Justin has slightly different ideas: working on something Hal said to him, Justin dives to the bottom of the lake and brings back up with him a safebox. However, Justin claims that whilst he was in the water, ‘a monster’ held him down for a period of time before releasing him.

In the safebox is another videotape, this one containing a recording of Hal asserting that ‘self sacrifice in front of the one true god is the only way to make the journey into the cosmos’. This discovery precipitates an argument between Hal and Justin, Hal criticising the stories about the cult that Justin told in the outside world which made Hal and the others ‘look like a dickless, poison Kool Aid-drinking Heaven’s Gate offshoot’.

Justin visits Shitty Carl (James Jordan), who lives in a shack outside the camp. Justin sees Shitty Carl’s body hanging by his neck in the shack… but another Shitty Carl is alive outside the shack. Shitty Carl reveals to Justin that the members of the cult and other people nearby are caught in a ‘Bunch of looping prisms, man […] Repeating over and over and over again, like rats telling stories for that thing’s amusement [….] You gotta kill yourself before the restart, or that thing’ll do it for you, and it’s much worse than anything you can do to yourself’.

Shitty Carl asks Justin to visit the nearby ‘gun nut tweaker’ Chris (Mike’s buddy from Resolution) and asks for one of his guns, so that Shitty Carl may find another way of escaping from the loop. Furthermore, whilst Justin and Aaron have both noted that in the vicinity of the camp, there appear to be two moons in the sky – a feature explained as a product of atmospheric reflection – they overhear ominous allusions to ‘when the third moon is full’.

Resolution mostly takes place in a single location and has a limited cast, the majority of the film revolving around dialogues that take place between Mike and Chris, with some glimpses of Mike’s wife Jennifer, Mike and Chris’ former schoolmates Billy and Micah, the cabin’s owner Charles, and the anthropologist Byron. Though taking place in broadly the same geographical area, The Endless uses a much bigger palette as the background for its story, featuring a larger number of locations and a much bigger cast.

Resolution has been allied with the ‘found footage’ horror films that grew in popularity throughout the 2000s; though the story of this film, and that of The Endless after it, makes use of found media (not just moving image footage – in the form of videotaped material, digitally-shot footage and 8mm reels – but also audio recordings and journals), neither picture is a ‘found footage’ film per se. As Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay and Chris Vander Kaay have asserted about Resolution, ‘the film enjoys tearing at the edges of expectation and subverting the clichés of both the science fiction and horror genres’ (Fernandez-Vander Kaay & Vander Kaay, 2018: np). They argue that the chief antagonist of the film is ‘Media itself’, and through its use of the found footage Mike discovers in the stone house and elsewhere, ‘[t]he plot […] forces the audience to be an unwilling participant in the suffering of the characters’ (ibid.). It’s a deliriously metafictional concept: Mike and Chris realise they are being watched by an unseen entity, one that records their actions in the form of moving image footage, and this functions for the audience as a dawning awareness by the characters that they are in a work of fiction, a spectacle enacted for the benefit of an external force (the entity/the film’s audience). It ultimately leads them to question their own free will. Resolution has much in common with modernist theatre, in particular Luigi Pirandello’s groundbreaking 1921 play Six Characters in Search of an Author. Towards the end of Resolution, Mike and Chris discover a reel of 16mm footage in the stone house; realising this footage offers a premonition of future events, Mike desperately looks at the footage frame by frame to determine if he and Chris will survive. ‘I think If we can get to the end of this reel of film, we’ll be fine’, Mike says. As if to reinforce the relationship between the footage Mike has watched and the movie itself (ie, Resolution, the film the audience is watching), a series of film-like effects (warping and strobe cuts) are introduced at the edit points in the next few shots.

Amidst this, Benson and Moorhead allow Mike to interact with some eccentric ancillary characters: Mike and Chris’ former schoolmates Billy and Micah, now comically inept drug dealer whose Beavis and Butthead-style idiocy becomes deeply menacing in the film’s final sequences; Charley, the enigmatic Native American owner of the house in which Mike imprisons Chris, who is likewise proved in the film’s later sequences to be a deadly presence; Byron, the French anthropologist who arrived in the area as part of a research team thirty years prior and decided to stay, living in a Winnebago and growing marijuana nearby. Moorhead has acknowledged that many of these characters are, in his words, ‘Lynchian’, their appearance in the story functioning as ‘red herrings’ that leave ‘viewers disoriented so we can swoop in and blast that crazy ending on them [….] If Chekov’s gun is on the wall in the first act and must go off in the third, we’ll put a dozen guns on the wall and in the end someone who you didn’t notice was in the room all along will stab you with a knife’ (Moorhead, quoted in Fernandez-Vander Kaay & Vander Kaay, op cit.: np).

The film suggests that originally, the creature communicated via the cave paintings that Byron and his team arrived to study, but learnt to use modern media – Polaroids, 8mm and 16mm film footage, videotapes, LPs, audio cassettes, and finally digitally shot film footage: ‘Basically, what started out using cave paintings is now using a hard drive’ (Benson, quoted in Fernandez-Vander Kaay & Vander Kaay, op cit.: np). These materials offer stories from the past (for example, the series of photographic slides Mike finds in the library which depict a Vietnam veteran’s return from the war and subsequent suicide) but also deliver a form of prolepsis, giving the characters a premonition of future events. ‘Do you think people are leaving their stories for us to find?’, Mike wonders. ‘I think people leave their shit everywhere’, Chris responds, ‘and you fucking take it personally’. The exact nature of these events, Byron suggests, may be impossible for us to comprehend: ‘How does an isolated tribesman in Ecuador know the difference between an alien, an angel or a ghost?’, he asks Mike, ‘He doesn’t; but he tells a story to make sense of the infinite’. Byron also adds that the French students with whom he initially arrived ‘were searching for monsters and they found each other’.

Resolution’s hints at a mysterious, unknowable cosmic horror ally it with the work of H P Lovecraft, and the influence of Lovecraft becomes more prominent in The Endless, which actually begins with a title card quoting Lovecraft’s 1927 essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown’). This is followed by a second quote which establishes another field within the film’s thematic territory, brotherly love: ‘Friends tell each other how they feel with relative frequency. Siblings wait for a more convenient time, like their deathbeds’. Camp Arcadia is a liminal space where death is defeated by the continuous time loops. ‘I can assure you that nothing here ends’, Hal tells Justin, ‘What happens here is that people live long and healthy lives. And because of that, they grow to be the people they want to be’. The film’s association with Lovecraft is consolidated in Hal’s attempt to describe the seemingly invisible invisible creature as ‘made up of impossible colours. See, our retinas have only three types of cone cells. So maybe none as the signal strength to see it in its normal state’. As Chris tells Justin about the nature of this cosmic creature in The Endless, ‘The trick of this whole thing is to not be afraid of something that’s horrifying and everyone’s afraid of it. But if you let it control you just one time, it’s gonna fucking control you over and over again’.

From its opening moments onwards, through its juxtaposition of the footage of a hopped-up-on-goofballs Chris wielding his shotgun in the wilderness with shots of a settled Mike at home with his wife, Resolution contrasts the ‘settled’ (Mike, employed as a graphic designer and married to his wife Jennifer) with the ‘unsettled’ (Chris, described by various characters in The Endless as a ‘gun nut tweaker’), and between family and isolation. These opposites are extended in The Endless to encompass the dualism between ‘belonging’ (Aaron’s attitude towards the cult at Camp Arcadia) and ‘alienation’ (how Aaron feels in the outside world), and between ‘free will’ (what Justin finds is the most significant value of life outside Camp Arcadia) and ‘determinism’ (life in Camp Arcadia, defined by the ‘loops’). For Aaron, the world at Camp Arcadia is more tangible and rewarding than the world outside: outside, both he and Justin have struggled to make connections with other people, and as they consume noodles cooked in a pan, Aaron reflects, ‘You know, they [Camp Arcadia] used to feed us real food like vegetables and…’ Justin cuts him off with a simple assertion that ‘I’d rather be alive and eat ramen than dead and eat corn’. ‘If we were back at the camp, we’d have good food and support, and we wouldn’t be one dirty house away from being homeless’, Aaron tells him in response. However, Aaron reminds Justin that away from Camp Arcadia, they have a degree of free will which was unavailable to them when they were in the cult: ‘To me, the thing that makes our lives here [outside Camp Arcadia] better is thinking for ourselves’, Justin reminds his brother. However, at the camp, Hal suggests that free will is a millstone around one’s neck, that belief in ‘a higher power, a governing force, God […] Now wouldn’t that be a weight off your shoulders? And if you like having the weight gone, you and Aaron have a home here’. When Justin and Aaron are fishing on the lake, Aaron suggests to his brother that they should stay at the camp: ‘We’d be taken care of’, Aaron argues, ‘Nothing to worry about except doing our own thing and there’s a kind of order to things here [….] Like something really is watching out for us’. However, Justin responds by saying simply that ‘I don’t think comfort is worth dying for’.

Video

Both films are presented in their intended aspect ratio/s of 2.35:1. The 1080p presentations employ the AVC codec and each film is housed on a separated disc. The Endless takes up approximately 30Gb of space on its disc and runs for 111:30 mins; Resolution takes up about 25Gb of space on its disc and runs for 92:42 mins. Both films were shot digitally, Resolution being shot on the Red One and The Endless being shot on the Red Dragon (with some footage shot on a Panasonic Lumix GH4). The opening scenes of The Endless are deliberately murky and feature some seemingly intentional vignetting, to communicate how drab Justin and Aaron’s lives outside Camp Arcadia are; once the brothers arrive at the camp, the photography becomes more vibrant and colourful. Detail throughout both presentations is excellent. Particularly in the case of The Endless, there’s a dominant use of shorter focal lengths, the lenses producing some noticeable barrel distortion – which seems to be employed by the filmmakers to convey a sense of the ‘looping prisms’ (in the words of Shitty Carl) in which the characters are trapped. Contrast levels are pleasing for the most part, though it’s obvious that these are digitally-shot features, and there’s some terribly funky day-for-night footage in The Endless. The encode is strong on both features, with no distracting artefacts appearing on screen.



Resolution


The Endless


Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review (please click to enlarge).

Audio

Audio on both films is presented via a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. In the case of both pictures, the audio is rounded and immersive, with a strong sense of depth and range. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included. These are easy to read.

Extras

Disc contents are as follows:
DISC ONE:
The Endless (111:30)
- Commentary by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead and David Lawson, Jr
. Benson, Moorhead and Lawson talk about the film’s relationship with their previous film, Resolution, and discuss the origins of the story. They talk about the production of the picture in detail, offering some fascinating insight into the world of independent filmmaking.

- Interview with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (14:32)
. Benson and Moorhead – mostly Benson, to be fair, with Moorhead taking a backseat for much of the interview – reflect on the opportunities that presented themselves to the filmmakers following the release of their second film, Spring (2014). They realised that instead, they would prefer to pursue a self-initiated project and were fascinated with the relationship ‘between conformity and anti-conformity’. The Endless was made ‘in the spirit of being self-reliant’. They also talk about the film’s depiction of the cult and their need to maintain an aura of ambiguity in relation to the cult’s beliefs.

- ‘Making The Endless’ (31:36)
. This documentary about the production of the film features to-camera pieces by Benson and Moorhead at the Swiss premiere of the picture interspersed with behind the scenes footage of the production. The filmmakers talk about the origins of the project and the preproduction phase, discussing writing, casting and rehearsals, before reflecting on the production of the movie. It’s an interesting documentary that offers insight into contemporary indie feature filmmaking.

- ‘Breaking the News’ (3:03)
. After post-production, Benson and Moorhead played a practical joke on actor Vinny Curran, who plays Chris, telling him that the actor playing Mike, Peter Cilela, had been cut from the final edit of the picture, which would render nonsensical the scenes featuring Chris and Mike. This is footage of the telephone call between Benson and Moorhead, and Vinny Curran, in which this practical joke was enacted.

- ‘Casting Aaron’ (1:30)
. This is jokey footage of Benson, Moorhead and David Lawson, Jr, auditioning for the role of Aaron.

- ‘Casting Smiling Dave’ (2:57)
. This is more jokey footage of David Lawson, Jr, auditioning for the role of Smiling Dave – which involves Lawson simply smiling, with varying degrees of success.

- VFX Breakdown (2:42)
. The film’s digital effects are explored – with before and after footage of green screen effects and such.

- ‘UFO Cult Comedy’ (3:24)
. A short, improvised film made by Benson and Moorhead whilst the filmmakers were touring various film festivals with Spring. It is prefaced by an introduction from the filmmakers who describe it as ‘an abandoned early version’ of The Endless.

- ‘Vinny’s Story’ (9:00)
. This candid footage was shot by actor Vinny Curran during his time working on the film.

- Michael Felker (2:54)
. This feature consists of footage shot on set with the actors having fun by using the name of the film’s editor, Michael Felker, in the dialogue.

- Deleted Scenes (with ‘Play All’/6:29 option)
: ‘Garage Sale Man’ (0:27); ‘Goats’ (1:17); ‘Beer Guys’ (0:45); ‘Happiness’ (1:41); ‘The Wall It Constructs’ (0:49); ‘The Trailer’ (0:45); and ‘Brotherly Walk’ (0:52). Most of this footage is short extensions of scenes already in the film. Amidst this, there’s some symbolic slo-mo footage of goats rutting and some slight development of the cult’s business brewing and selling beer.

- Outtakes (10:00)
. Does what it says on the tin.

- Theatrical Trailer (1:57)
.

- Tribeca Festival Promo (1:28)
. Benson and Moorhead are seen addressing the camera about the project.


DISC TWO:
Resolution (92:42)
.
- Commentary with Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran. The directors and their two lead actors spend an hour and a half reflecting on the production of the film. This is a lively commentary filled with good (and often crude) humour, the participants clearly relaxed in one another’s company.

- Commentary with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Benson and Moorhead offer a more ‘sedated’ commentary, in comparison with the first commentary track on this disc, that provides some insight into their approach to filmmaking.

- Commentary with Carmel the Dog. A truly bizarre track with Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead and ‘Carmel the dog’. Benson and Moorhead react to a dog’s barks as if the dog is asking intellectual questions about the film. In truth, it’s funny for about five or ten minutes but the joke wears thin quite quickly.

- Interview with the Filmmakers (17:04). This new interview, culled from the same session as the interview with Benson and Moorhead on The Endless disc, features the filmmakers reflecting on the journey to making their first feature, Resolution. They discuss some of the challenges they faced in getting the project off the ground and talk about how they achieved some of the more challenging sequences – especially those involving visual effects.

- Archival Filmmakers Interview (2:48). This is a short archival piece with Benson and Moorhead interviewed separately. It’s superficial but interesting nonetheless.

- Weird Extras. In this section is a gallery of footage featuring the filmmakers having fun with the material whilst also subtly parodying the gallery of ‘deleted scenes’ which seems like a prerequisite of any home video release these days:
o ‘How Our Movie Resolution Will Help You Have Sex’ (2:05). Here, Benson and Moorhead address the camera in attempt to ‘sell’ the film prior to its VOD release, suggesting that Resolution will, indeed, help its audience to have sex.
o ‘Shane the Missing Character’ (2:43). This is a comic piece which begins with a title card asserting that a character named Shane was edited out of the finished film before presenting the viewer with a dryly funny re-edit of one of the scenes in the picture, complete with jarring, awkward and completely inappropriate inserts to footage of Aaron Moorhead as ‘Shane’.
o ‘Topless Scene’ (0:18). More comic footage, this time featuring Mike watching a topless Chris.
o ‘Extended Scene: Lawyer Call’ (1:44). This is another comical extension of a sequence in the film – this time, the sequence in which Chris threatens to sue Mike, which is here presented with the addition of a scene outside in which Mike calls a lawyer friend and asks if this is possible.
o Alternative Ending (5:29). This is a presentation of a ‘career ruining’ alternate ending.

- Outtakes and Unseen Footage:
o Behind the Scenes (22:14)
. A compilation of behind the scenes footage covering the writing/rehearsal process and the shooting of the film.
o Extended Found Footage: 8mm (0:49)
. An extension of the 8mm footage glimpsed in the film, featuring a man stumbling through the snow and encountering a woman whose arm has been torn from her torso.
o Extended Found Footage: Crazy Chris (1:30)
. This is an extension of the footage seen at the start of the film, featuring Chris in the wilds, shooting his shotgun and getting high.
o Extended Found Footage: Webcam Death (0:46)
. An extension of the webcam footage in which Mike and Chris are attacked and killed by Billy and Micah.
o Extended Found Footage: Cult (2:23)
. An extension of the scene in which Mike encounters the three cult members.
o Outtakes (11:10)
.

- Film Festival Promos (22:26)
. Various snippets intended to promote the film at festivals.

Overall

Both Resolution and The Endless are interesting films, Benson and Moorhead displaying an inventive approach to the material and offering films that are more ambitious and carefully plotted than most studio films. Though sometimes associated with the subgenre of ‘found footage’ horror films that have proliferated since the early 2000s, in truth these films have little in common with those pictures – other than Benson and Moorhead’s use of examples of found media within the narratives of both films. The mysterious creature’s mastery of both analogue and digital media affords the filmmakers an interesting opportunity to deliver films that are cognisant of their statuses as constructs – most apparent at the climax of Resolution, in which Mike and Chris are able to fastfoward the webcam footage of the shack, anticipating – and thereby avoiding – their deaths at the hands of Billy and Micah. Though The Endless may be watched without having seen Resolution, seeing Resolution first helps to give some context to the events within the narrative of The Endless.

Engaging examples of Lovecraftian ‘cosmic horror’, both films are admittedly slightly hampered by some crude humour (which spills over into some of the extra features) that arguably dissipates some of the tension. Nevertheless, both pictures come with a strong recommendation. Arrow’s presentations of both films are fine, and the main features are accompanied by a massive array of contextual material, some of it very good indeed (in particular, the behind-the-scenes documentary on the first disc and the interviews with Moorhead and Benson).

References:
Fernandez-Vander Kaay, Kathleen & Vander Kaay, Chris, 2018: Indie Science Fiction Cinema Today: Conversations with 21st Century Filmmakers. London: McFarland

Click to enlarge:
Resolution
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The Endless
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