It’s been a while since a movie’s ending made me as viscerally angry as this one, and this Netflix dump being titled How It Ends is the biggest troll.
I’m fine with movies that have abrupt or obtuse endings where audiences are required to fill in the blanks. That doesn’t bother me. Even films that end on a quiet note after a parade of loud action is A-OK. What’s infuriating here is that How It Ends has a non-ending. It’s not even a cliffhanger. It’s not even pretend setup for a sequel that could, would and should never happen. The ending confirms that everything you just watched was indeed an absolute waste of your time. The script from Brook McLaren — which comes from the 2010 Blacklist (its age definitely shows) — has nowhere to go while acting like it does, and once you arrive at the destination, you’ll wish you never even sat down to begin the damn thing.
I would say this review contains spoilers, but you can’t spoil a movie that has zero characters or action that have any consequence on anything that happens. Situations are presented, characters are introduced, minimal stakes are placed and then evaporated. By the end, you realize it was all for naught.
So, spoilers ahead, I guess.
How It Ends is a crossover between a road trip movie and an end of the world apocalypse movie, and the story revolves around the relationship between father and son. Well, father-in-law. It’s like The Road, but total shit. Will (Theo James) and his future father-in-law, Tom (Forest Whitaker), head off cross-country from Chicago to Seattle as news of the end of the world hits. Waiting for them in Seattle is Will’s wife-to-be and Tom’s only daughter, Samantha (Kat Graham). Will is an affluent millennial lawyer — but not affluent enough in Tom’s eyes — who moved Tom’s daughter away from him, and he resents him for it. Will flies to Chicago to have dinner with Tom and his wife to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. We quickly learn Will and Tom definitely don’t see eye to eye — and then disaster strikes.
Tom is a former Marine, naturally, so without barely any hesitation or consideration for what the disaster hitting the west coast might actually be or waiting to see what might unfold, he enters fight or flight mode and spews a monologue about taking action into his own hands. He delivers this to Will, and then in dramatic pause he states the question: “Are you coming with me?” Because Will has to prove his masculinity and worthiness to marry Tom’s daughter, of course he says yes.
As they hit the road, we discover after not even one day of the mysterious event that has caused blackouts nationwide, people are running around armed with weapons and looting from stores and each other. The lazy approach to reaching an apocalyptic level of circumstances for the sake of getting there removes any and all interest in the events that unfold. And those events are one cliche pit stop after the next. Tom and Will get held at gunpoint by vigilantes who try to steal their gas supply. They pull over to get supplies. They keep going and stop somewhere else for supplies. Another person holds them up at gun point for their supplies. There’s a few car chases for no reason. Cars are flipped. Locations are on fire. Mysteriously strong storms swirl above them. Dust covers barren towns they enter to, you guessed it, look for more supplies.
The only saving grace that injects any level of interest in the proceedings is a young Native American woman named Ricki (Grace Dove) they pick up along the way because they want to utilize her mechanic skills. They’re completely using her and unfairly coerce her into joining them, but we never get into that. Tom and Will are good guys, remember. They’re boring as all hell, but hey, they’re the good guys and have compelling stakes because that’s what the movie wants us to think.
Grace Dove is the only actor on-screen putting in any work. Theo James, vanished since the Divergent trilogy, reemerges as a clone of Jamie Dornan. Him wearing a suit in Seattle was very Fifty Shades of Grey. But at least, unlike Dornan, there’s some light in James’ eyes. Forest Whitaker is clearly there for the paycheck. He does a fine job of sputtering up blood slumped in the backseat of a car after shattering some ribs — spoiler, sorry. There is one scene of actual emotion and vulnerability when, inevitably, Will and Tom connect after all, but it’s only through the lens of loving a damsel in distress. You can tell the script came from 2010 because here we are in 2018 where macho bonding and emoting is canceled.
Director David M. Rosenthal knows how to find the beauty of a post-apocalyptic landscape, and there are some shots that make for a nice break between, well, everything else happening. That everything else we’ve already seen before, done in more interesting ways in more interesting movies. There is absolutely nothing new here. An attempt to explain the source of the catastrophic event poses some potential intrigue, but it’s squandered on arrival. And then How It Ends come to its ending, which I don’t even think you could call it that, so I’m going to throw that in quotes: “ending.”
Back in 2010 this would’ve been straight to video garbage, but apparently Netflix now takes pride in absorbing the bargain bin crap to put in their catalog and call it prestige. Don’t fall for this one, even if it sits waiting for you on the Netflix landing page.