Charlie Kaufman is considered one of the greatest screenwriters in the world and is largely unknown outside of the cinephile community. I'm thinking of Ending Things, its first feature on Netflix in five years, should in some ways change that while cementing its rep for a strange and unique narrative approach.
While Kaufman's work (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Immaculate Mind) usually defies classification, the chilling I Think of the End of Things is decidedly a horror film. Based on Iain Reed's debut novel – a thriller that was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award – the atmosphere of the film is dark and snowy, punctuated by surreal dream sequences that create a truly mind-blowing experience.
The movie starts out normal enough. When it opens, Jessie Buckley plays a young woman who first meets the family of her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemmons). But as her voice tells us, she has concerns – about Jake, about life, about her name. Is it lucy Lucia? Louisa? It changes like the wind, suddenly, yet in a way that you don't really notice until the weather literally changes. Watching the weather from sunny to gray, snowy to black is like watching the sun derive the color of a Polaroid image, and Kaufman wasting little time deriving color from the frame.
When they stop at the farmhouse, Jake's mother (Toni Colette) waves and waves out the window. Despite the snow, Jake insists on showing Lucy the barn first, which is infested with pigs, maggots, and a burned black spot. Strange. More anomalies crop up around the house, including hidden basements, glowing wallpaper, and objects that appear to be moving in a vortex of time.
Believe it or not, things get stranger from there. Characters leave the room looking older or younger than they left. Lucy receives mysterious calls warning her, "There is only one question that needs to be resolved." Jake's childhood dog comes back to life. What the heck happened
For most of the Ending Things, Kaufman brings Buckley (and the audience) into the echo chamber of Lucy's head, where ideas of art, love, loss, and aging have room to wander. This narrative strategy effectively blurs the line between dream and reality, and we often wonder whether what Lucy is seeing is real or fake, and whether it matters at all. The result is a clever, inventive, great insane update of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, another horror film about someone who might have the chance to swap reality to live in the lonely, deserted land of their dreams.