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Ah, the teen drama genre: a time-tested money maker, both in terms of the cinematic and literary canons of the world. Watching the trailers for director Scott Speer’s Endless, you can tell that the idea behind the film is very much at home in the same type of atmosphere that the Twilight saga made so famous over a decade ago. However, that’s just the surface of what the movie has to offer, as there are surprising depths in this romantic exploration of grief and the paranormal.
Endless sees teenagers Riley (Alexandra Shipp) and Chris (Nicholas Hamilton) graduating high school in a sleepy Northwestern town. She’s a budding artist headed to Georgetown, while he’s a troubled young man who’s really good with a wrench. Their romance is at a crossroads when her college plans becomes public knowledge, but before they really get to argue about it their romance is cut short due to Chris’ untimely death in a car accident. With Riley recovering from the accident and the loss of her boyfriend, our protagonist goes through some tough times – events that are made even more difficult by the fact that Chris’ soul is stuck in limbo where he can see and hear the world of the living.
While starting out as a standard teenage supernatural drama, Endless eventually goes to some pretty emotional places.
At the start of Endless, it really feels like the movie is going to steer hard into the lane that made supernatural teen romance movies popular in the first place. Wistful narration, drives through the backwoods, and big fights about the future of this young couple build the foundation of the movie's central romantic relationship. But once the car crash that tragically separates our lovers plays out, the film starts to turn into something new all-together. Playing out through twin story strands, the film follows Riley as she deals with her grief, and also digs into the investigation into the accident that injured her and killed the love of her life. Meanwhile, Chris is navigating the world between the living and the dead with the assistance of a helpful fellow spirit (DeRon Horton) who shows him the ropes. The way these two stories ultimately intersect makes for some solid dramatic tension that leads to a third act that dives head-on into something that could have been better set up if the first act shied away from the usual teen theatrics.
Endless owes a bit of a creative debt to both Ghost and Twilight.
As much as Endless feels like it had elements of tone and story from Twilight grafted onto it, there’s also a lot of DNA from the ‘90s classic Ghost. With the eventual encounters that Riley feels from Chris’ otherworldly spirit, there’s more than a hint of the same sort of romance that Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze shared decades ago. Swap out pottery for cutting up a tomato, and you’ve got a toned down scene of romance for the teen audience the new supernatural romance is trying to attract. But rather than merely copying either of those inspirations, the film does work those elements into the mix in such a way that it doesn’t distract. The comparisons aren’t deal breakers, but rather a key ingredient to the story that helps some pieces work better than others. You need to believe this couple is really in love, and both Alexandra Shipp and Nicholas Hamilton craft a relationship that is a hair more believable than a standard teen romance. But the heavy lifting of Endless definitely goes to Ms. Shipp, as we see Riley go through the wringer, and all of the tolls it takes on her psyche as she deals with her trauma.
Despite a rough start, Endless is a surprise for non-genre fans, and a delight for those who are loyal followers.
While Endless has one too many subplots for its own good, and will definitely feel familiar to people who either love or loathe the genre, it surprisingly rises above both of those factors as an overall entertaining film. This is especially true when it comes to Alexandra Shipp’s performance, as she takes the role of Riley and turns in a tremendous rendition of a young woman overcome by sorrow, trying to figure out the next step. It may not a movie for everyone, and the heavily cynical audience member could still find themselves riffing the film for the first 20 minutes or so, but as the story begins to take shape, and the stakes start to raise, Endless might surprise even the most jaded of viewers with the level of heart and drama it eventually possesses.