Unnerving, apocalyptic road trip fuels ‘How It Ends’

By: - Writing Editor
/ 12:20 AM September 08, 2018

Forest Whitaker (left) and Theo James

A disaster flick, an unconventional road trip movie and a family drama rolled into one, “How It Ends” imagines the chaos that comes with a series of catastrophes that could seal the fate of the planet.

But, in David Rosenthal’s film on Netflix, while that hodgepodge of genres initially works, there are ultimately more questions than satisfying answers. Still, it’s understandable—the end of the world would probably make little sense, once you’re in the thick of things.


The massive cataclysm starts unexpectedly. Young lawyer Will (Theo James) is supposed to fly back to his expectant girlfriend Sam (Kat Graham) after he visits her parents in another state. His dinner with them ends on a sour note, as Sam’s ex-marine dad, Tom (Forest Whitaker), disapproves of Will and suggests an active involvement in their financial affairs.

Hours later, Will and Sam’s video call is abruptly ended by a power interruption. Not long after, flights are canceled, forcing Will to go back to Tom’s place. He finds the older man preparing to leave, hoping to reach the now-incommunicado Sam by car, so he decides to set aside their differences and join him.


They embark on a steadily unnerving road trip, encountering people who are still processing reports that some natural disasters are claiming the lives of untold numbers. Soon enough, their survival instincts kick in, along with everyone else’s—and they’re all willing to do what it takes to get through whatever’s coming.

James plays a lawyer looking for his pregnant girlfriend.

Whitaker and James’ odd-couple dynamic is given ample time to flourish and, while that’s quite predictable, how they deal with threats together amuses. Their bonding in less than ideal circumstances gives the film its emotional tug.

It’s easier to care about that, actually, than the gorgeous, catastrophe-separated couple (James was in the “Divergent” films; Graham was in “The Vampire Diaries”). In any case, Whitaker is characteristically fitting as the man with a plan, while James gets to portray a young rookie who’s out to prove himself, yet again.

However, “How It Ends” has a huge problem with, well, how it actually ends. By the last 20 minutes, a character and a subplot are shoehorned into the already-fizzling story, presenting interesting but easily dismissible theories about the whole mess—which doesn’t have a clear, satiating ending. For a film about finality, it oddly lacks necessary closure.

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TAGS: David Rosenthal’s film, How It Ends, Netflix, road trip movie
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