ENDLESS— 3 STARS
LESSON #1: PLEASE BE REAL— For wishful reasons beyond the exploitative ones, people want to believe in ghosts. They would be alright with even the creepiest voyeur version or novelty of that to be real. Why? Because the existence of ghosts would mean there’s something else out there after our inevitable deaths. A tangible afterlife creates massive spiritual implications that stir so many. Molding their fictional clay, movies love plucking that particular heartstring, and the new streaming film Endless follows that convention.
Circle back to the notion of what is wishful. Extending love that was lost will always be the #1 answer on any spirit of the dead Family Feud survey poll. That coveted desire is so strong because the pain of grief is even stronger. That’s automatic drama of the human condition rich for uncomplicated storytelling. That’s all you need from Endless, yet it blooms to more as it waxes poetically.
Riley Jean Stanheight (Alexandra Shipp of the X-Men franchise and Love, Simon) is a Clear Lake, California high school graduate from a well-off family (parents Richard and Helen played by Ian Tracey and Catherine Haggquist) with high prospects of going to college on the other side of the country in preparation to be a straight-laced lawyer. She’s head over heels for a wrong-side-of-the-tracks type of guy by the name of Chris Douglas (Nicholas Hamilton of It). He’s a prouder and more bohemian dreamboat living with a stressed single mother Lee (a mature Famke Janssen). Sharing motorcycle rides and lakeside embraces as socioeconomic opposites, they deeply connect through their shared artistic sides.
Tragedy strikes when an argumentative exchange after an alcohol-fueled party leads to an automobile accident. Thinking he’s standing at Riley’s hospital bedside, Chris realizes he’s dead and no one can see him. Illuminated by simple effects with light and dust by Vance Irvine, he’s one of many lost spirits in between life and whatever is next. Jordan (DeRon Horton of Dear White People), a fellow teenaged spirit that has been dead since 1987, guides him through his new eternal situation while he longs for Riley. Jordan’s origins and the police investigation conducted by Investigator Jenkins (Patrick Gilmore of You Me Her and Travelers) are detracting subplots along the way.
LESSON #2: SPECIAL CONNECTIONS AND SPECIAL PLACES— Chris’s pining and trailing proximity creates little moments where Riley is convinced of his continuing presence while expressing unsaid regrets. Like a true 21st century character, rather than solely wondering and pining herself, she’s Googling soul mates, spiritual studies, and going to locations she and Chris shared. Shipp and Hamilton have a lovely chemistry of a pitch perfect wavelength when those moments open up.
LESSON #3: UNBURDENING GRIEF— The most impressive quality of Endless is its approach to dealing with death. Whimsical romance set to ethereal piano may appear to be the forefront, but the sense of sorrow is appreciably very real. The mind’s way of coping leads to conduits of imagination and creative outlets (fantastic original art by Jim Cliffe, Dianne B. Shannon, and Marius Bream fills the picture). Flash floods of emotions ranging from fault, blame, and acceptance overpower wills and this little indie grants those moments attention and care for the teens and adults in this narrative. Its answer to it all is the quaint inspiration: “You don’t have to join them when they are always there.” “Live for them” is another.
In a very committed performance, Alexandra Shipp weathers the wringer of those highs and lows with alluring strength and grace. The filmmaking team of Midnight Sun and Step Up Revolution director Scott Speer and writers Andre Case and O’Neil Sharma create an ambiance that is not too sexy, not too passionate, and not too lofty. It’s medium without a medium. An excellent vibe for all of this comes from music of Todd Bryanton and Nik Freitas supported by a Laura Katz-supervised soundtrack featuring songs from Paper Lights.
From its modest sources, Endless has a clean and polished air about itself in taking on topics normally too sparkly or too saccharine to take seriously. Folks, it’s still ghosts. Melodrama is a given. Yet, proper care and portrayal is still given to the emotional toll of true loss for those still living and loving.