How It Ends should begin with you not loading this one in your Netflix queue. This is a film that has potential, but squanders all of its goodwill and audience patience by the time the end credits roll.
Will (Theo James, Divergent) is on a business trip to Chicago. While he’s there, he’s going to ask his longtime girlfriend’s parents for their blessing to get married. And despite reassurances from his girlfriend Samantha (Kat Graham), her father Tom (Forest Whitaker, Black Panther) is still holding a grudge over Will crashing his prized boat. To help keep the peace and give Will some support besides her mother (Nicole Ari Parker), the sensible thing would be for Samantha to accompany him to dinner, right? Not for the sake of this film. This is the first of many increasingly larger red flags in the film.
Predictably the dinner is a disaster, but Will has to deal with a literal one. Something — whether a nuclear attack or natural disaster on a biblical scale — has left the country without power or the ability to update their Instagram. With Samantha on the other side of the country in Seattle, Tom and Will do the only sensible thing and hop in a car for a cross country rescue mission.
That’s actually not a bad premise. But early on screenwriter Brooks McLaren is intent on finding every wacky reason to derail the trip. One of the more frustrating is McLaren’s go to plot device of random strangers trying to take Tom and Will out. It doesn’t matter if they’re at a crowded gas station or a bridge, Will and Tom’s car seems to have a ‘please rob us’ neon sign.
It doesn’t help that Will is habitually stupid and frustratingly does everything any sensible person in this situation would avoid. Maybe trying to help that one stranger stuck on the side of the road is noble, but after the third roadside trap is sprung, you’d think Will would catch on. Couple that with the duo frequently making random pit stops to drag out what should be a three day road trip at worse. It’s not like they’re stopping for lunch at the corner diner.
In another odd and credibility stretching plot point, the guys recruit a mechanic, Ricki (Grace Dove, The Revenant), who decides to tag along. Apparently life on Ricki’s reservation is so slow that taking a road trip with two complete strangers is just the cure to bring about some excitement. Dove provides a unique dynamic to the mix, but just when Ricki’s arc gets interesting she bails on Will and Tom. Clearly, Ricki was the smart one as she knew this ride (and film) was going nowhere.
The real shame here is that Whitaker and James have good chemistry. They’re able to keep the film engaging most of the way through even as hope starts fading that a worthwhile payoff is awaiting in the next scene. The final act feels particularly pointless as Will takes a needlessly aggressive attitude towards an ally.
Director David M. Rosenthal (The Perfect Guy) has some good ideas and some creative camera angles, but he can only do so much to cover up for the film’s lack of substance. How It Ends definitely earns its style points thanks to some strong cinematography from Peter Flinckenberg.
At just under two hours, How It Ends wears viewers done worse than bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour. The glacial pacing and questionable character decisions make it feel much longer and the payoff is so undercooked it makes the entire viewing experience feel like a cheat. Skip this one and binge one of those Netflix shows you’ve had on your to-view list. It’s a far better use of time.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Photo Credit: Eric Zachanowich/Netflix