Let me describe to you a movie in brief: two young lovers are ripped apart as one dies tragically while the other tries to cope with life without their partner, except — and here’s the twist — the one who dies carries on as a specter that watches over and desperately tries to connect with the one left behind. What is your first thought? Depending on when you were born, you’re likely thinking I’m describing Ghost, the Jerry Sucker-directed romantic supernatural thriller starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, a film which just celebrated 30 years of release. What I’ve given you, however, is the logline for the latest Quiver Distribution release, Endless, directed by Scott Speer (Step Up Revolution) and starring Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon) and Nicholas Hamilton (It Chapter One) as the star-crossed lovers. Even with the familiar foundation, Endless takes the narrative into a completely different direction, one which uses the life-after-death motif to explore the process of dealing with grief in a devastatingly powerful way.
If one were just to look at the marketing materials and the focus on the young, albeit talented, cast, the initial thought might be that Endless is a surface-level young adult feature with not much to offer. Given a chance, Endless reveals itself to be far more powerful, even if not always executed in a confident manner. For instance, the fact that the film begins with a voiceover from Shipp’s Riley setting the stage tells us that what we’re about to experience is a flashback. It doesn’t matter that it gives this away because the narrative and performances pull you in regardless, yet the use of voiceover to shorthand how the audience is caught up to speed with the characters means that the any tension regarding Riley is already significantly reduced. Later, when things are getting truly tense, not only does the music used to amplify the scene send an opposing message — calm over discomfort — which the energy of the scene can’t uphold, but the characters manufacture tension by abandoning the rules set-up early in the film. These three things exemplify where Endless loses its emotional intensity, which do not, on the whole, prove totally reductive to the cinematic experience.
The answer for why comes two-fold: the script and Shipp herself.
With a premise like this focused on two recent high school graduates, there’s an easy chance for all of Endless to slip into CW-style melodrama quickly. Instead, the story by Andre Case and screenplay by Case and Oneil Sharma (Get Lucky) drills down into the two sides of loss in ways that are frequently surprising. First, there’s the obvious Ghost element: Hamilton’s Chris coming to terms with his death amid an exploration of his life via newfound powers. This exploration of self allows for several moments of much needed levity as Chris learns he can not only move through objects and people, but teleport anywhere just by focusing on it in his mind. Want to travel to Philly? Boom. Want to sit center rink at a hockey game? Bamf. Curious about how your absentee dad is dealing with your loss? Poof. This ability, and others, enable Chris to explore what his life was and what his afterlife can be in ways that make much of Endless, forgive the term, life-affirming. The teleportation ability, specifically, allows for the story to keep flowing more easily via jump locations without the need for location shots or forced transitions. Then there’s the depiction of grief through Riley and Shipp’s performance frequently hits like a sledgehammer. Case and Sharma could easily have made Riley’s portion similar to that of Moore’s Molly in Ghost, reactive to everyone else and lacking agency. Instead, Riley is shown actively pursuing information and taking steps to communicate with Chris after their first accidental interaction. As Riley continues to seek that connection, the story makes sure to present all the gnarly dark places that people may go in search of solace when they feel as though their whole life is turned inside out by sudden loss. Shipp, who has shown captivated audiences performances light (Love, Simon) and grotesque (Tragedy Girls), really proves her meddle in an unrestrained exhibition suggestive of even greater depths audiences have yet to see. Even as the film hews closely to overdramatic, Shipp keeps Riley reigned in, not restrained, mind you, but cuttingly focused so that each wound, emotional or physical, can be felt by the engaged audience as the character experiences what could best be described as post-traumatic stress.
If there is a true gripe amid the small little snags, it’s that Riley, as a character, is comprised of what others make of her. First, she’s defined by a desire to go to Georgetown University, following in her parents’ footsteps to become a lawyer, which leads to an argument with Chris because he thinks she should be an artist. Later, she’s told how to grieve by her parents and friends. Then, before the film hits its emotional crux, Riley begins to take on traits of Chris, almost entirely succumbing to his personality at the risk of losing her own. As an audience, we do not know who Riley is as she is strictly shown via the perspectives of everyone else. If not for Shipp’s performance, it would be harder to truly connect with any of the emotions Endless works to evoke.
Given the recent 40th anniversary release of Ghost, I began to wonder what a remake might look like — Who would be cast, how would it feel within a modern context, would it feel quite as timeless? Those questions were, and are, rhetorical at best, but Speer’s Endless implies that not only could it be done, but it could work incredibly well. The technology that makes Chris look beyond the veil blends far more neatly and the core emotions tied to a narrative of love-struck-down-too-soon are still evocative with a capable cast. Though Endless is a little inconsistent at times, it succeeds where it counts and makes for a nice addition to Hamilton’s and Shipp’s resumes.
Available on VOD and digital August 14th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.