Director: David M. Rosenthal
Cast: Theo James, Kat Graham, Forest Whitaker, Kerry Bishé
Watch How It Ends online in the UK: Netflix UK
This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a distinctly underwhelming movie. Distinct, though, is the wrong for Netflix’s How It Ends: it’s as forgettable as… well, we can’t really remember.
The film has a simple enough premise: a young lawyer, Will (Theo James), and his girlfriend, Samantha (Kat Graham), are separated by the sudden onset of the apocalypse. The catch? She’s pregnant. And he’s just failed to make a good impression on her father, Tom (Forest Whitaker), whom he wanted to ask for permission to marry Sam. The morning after a very awkward dinner, his video call to Sam is interrupted by a weird noise, an earthquake and a power cut. Who will help him get across the country back to Sam and save her and their unborn child?
There are no points for guessing what happens next, and what unfolds is more low-key road movie than full-scale blockbuster. That, in itself, is no bad thing, and there’s a low-budget chic to the film that recalls Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. Director David M. Rosenthal conjures up some impressive enough visuals, from one far-out shot of a city laid to waste and in smouldering ruins to multiple moments involving ash in the air, which are suitably chilling.
But the problem lies with the writing rather than the direction. Originally on the Black List of unproduced screenplays, Brooks McClaren’s script is disappointingly, frustratingly undercooked. Tom is a former marine, which we learn unsubtly through some conveniently placed props, but that doesn’t have much impact on the plot; Will, meanwhile, has never held a gun before, but seems to adjust to firing one, and killing people, in a matter of minutes.
You expect their odd couple relationship to gradually thaw as the runtime continues, but their bond improves almost immediately. As a result, we’re left looking to the introduction of other characters to help boost the tension, but they fail to generate suspense at all – Ricki (Grace Dove), a mechanic, is a cypher without motivation, while Kerry Bishé (Halt and Catch Fire) does her best to bring some emotional weight to the short time she has on screen. Likewise, Jeremiah (Mark O’Brien), a software engineer with a fondness of conspiracy theories, disappears before he can make good on all the unanswered mysteries his presence raises. What caused the apocalypse? It doesn’t really matter, suggests Will, but the film fails to build upon that notion, turning it less into an intriguing theme and more into a last-minute get-out clause.
There are some solid car chase set pieces along this repetitive, meandering journey, and a neat use of a sonogram for the film’s opening shot, but it’s the ending that people remember from a story, not the beginning. After a final act that limps along without a satisfying resolution, it’s clear that How It Ends still hasn’t worked out the answer behind its own title.
How It Ends is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.