Another day, another Netflix Original movie. It might be hard to remember, but there was a time—right after the first season of Orange Is The New Black was released—when you heard of a Netflix Original you off the bat assumed you were in for some quality. There weren’t that many of them, Netflix had found massive success in their flagship show and was only then beginning to fund their own film content on a large-scale. For many of us this was good news. Netflix was known for their commitment to things like diversity and director instead of studio-led mentality.
So, what happened? Here we are years later, and my first reaction to seeing another Netflix Original movie is that it’s probably not going to be very good. Maybe that’s an unfair and pretentious assumption, but the fact is when an entity is focused on releasing things in quick succession there begins to be a quantity over quality trend, in the film department anyway. However, I try not to be cynical about it and more often than not will still take a chance in hopes of an odd gem coming through.
David Mitchell Rosenthal’s How It Ends isn’t the sparkly emerald I’m looking for.
“Cheyenne, Chinook, Chickasaw, Apache. I just think it’s funny that the Army named its helicopters after tribes they tried to wipe out.”
When Will (Theo James) is video-chatting with his out-of-state girlfriend, Sam (Kat Graham), and witnesses her become aware of some kind of event happen around her, it doesn’t take him long to figure out something bad has happened. By the time he reaches her parents’ house, her father Tom (Forrest Whitaker) is already putting together a survivalist supply to take on the road in an effort to find his daughter. Put Tom’s military background and Will’s incentive to find his lady together, and you’ve got two determined guys ready to take off without any knowledge of what they’ll be running into. Tom and Will have a rocky relationship. Tom pins some financial troubles on Will and makes remarks about how the young couple have moved away leaving a bitter taste in Will’s mouth. So, when they have to join forces to work towards their shared goal, you expect some friction. Instead there’s about a minute of clumsy set-up for what’s ahead and some unrealistic exchanges between them. Unfortunately a poor script and merely okay performances continue to appear.
They come across violence on the road fairly quickly, and the film reveals itself to have a very cynical but not wrong view of humanity in crisis and how people will turn on each other. It has some of the disaster clichés we are used to seeing and consistent rushes of immediate danger, but without the grit or commitment to find intensity in its characters all of this feels rather inconsequential. The fast pace does do well for the film though; there’s not much time to get bored at this point. How It Ends navigates bloodshed and gunfights easily and without fear, but what is that worth when it can’t get your head in the game enough to root for these guys as relentlessly as they themselves are? There are very occasional nice moments of sentiment, and the trio we end up with in the car are by no means unlikable, but the next step is never taken to elevate any of the relationships until it’s too late.
Visually it had its moments, especially in the second half. Sunsets on the horizon line, bursts of orange and smoke sprawled out on the road ahead as we hurtle towards the unknown. Consistent use of the golden hours make for some stunning landscapes and natural use of remote locations. I found it difficult to tune into what anyone was actually talking about, but at least the sky was pretty. I think Mother Nature might get the credit for this one, but the cinematography does a good job of capturing that beauty.
By the third act How It Ends starts to feel more like ‘when will it end’ as it changes focus in one of the most boring conclusions I could’ve imagined. The whole thing is about trying to find Will’s girlfriend, right? So when we find out whether that’s coming to fruition or not that’s a great jumping-off point. The mystery of what caused the event is a decent enough side thought throughout, but the film makes the grave mistake of thinking it’s done enough for us to be invested past the initial plot hook. The world building, characters etc. are far too weak to carry that burden of an extra 20 minutes at the end. We know now whether Will be reunited with whom he loves, and that’s enough. The continuation afterwards comes out of left field and feels totally worthless and without a point. At first I thought we might be changing focus to finding out what actually occurred, which at a stretch I might want to stick around for; but it’s not quite that and what we do get is a magnified showcase of the flaws in character and writing, which hidden behind a cloak of action before are now glaring. By this time I simply wanted it to finish. Each passing minute felt like ten, and I was hoping to see the credits roll after each of them—which is never a good thing.
How It Ends follows a fine plan for most of its runtime and doesn’t do a bad job guiding us through the dangerous environment until it presses the self-destruct button at the end in hopes of a more intelligent and riveting ending that nobody was pressing for. It neglects to dive into any of the world-ending themes that could have beefed things up and appears to have no value to be taken away from it.
Listen, Netflix Original movies aren’t all bad, and everybody’s perhaps being a little dramatic about it. But I have to be frank with you, my expectations are on the floor.