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Summary : A series of disasters appears to be hitting the USA. A young man (Theo James) has to get all the way across America to save his pregnant fiancee (Kat Graham) with the help of her ex-militarily father (Forest Whitaker), who hates his guts.
Netflix tries its hand at funding an end of the world movie, with some top dollar actors. And largely its good. While the script plays out some predictable tropes, such as the father-in-law-to-be relationship, got to get from here to way over there journey, whilst everything is falling apart and people screw each other over – it handles them professionally, without excessive cheese-whiz and it doesn’t feel the need to go for an ending that wraps everything up in a neat little bow.
Whitaker and James carry the movie, which has a small core cast of characters, and they make the fractious relationship play out well enough. There were a few things hinted at that didn’t play out or possibly dropped as script ideas. Whitaker’s character might have an underlying motive for why he is so hard on his prospective son-in-law, but this is never made substantial, if it is there at all. There is the obvious racial difference, but the movie is colourblind, which I liked. However, that would have been an interesting dynamic to play with.
I love the end of the world genre. However, one of its tropes is that when it all goes to shit people turn on each other. In fact, nearly all the post-disaster research shows the opposite (see Sam Sheridan’s Disaster Diaries and Sebastian Junger’s Tribe). People rally together. Strangers become friends and ironically people often look back, through all the loss and tragedy, to say that the disaster brought people together in a way that lifted and equalized the entire community. In fact, when people behave badly, as with Hurricane Katrina, it is the authorities, who assume (the poor people) will behave badly and so start sniping them as they try to just survive. However, this trope is kind of essential to the genre.
One other thing. America and its movie business, with all its Fremdschamen (exterior shame) over race and more recently gender, is typically blind to poverty. Few of its heroes are poor. Heroes live in gorgeous suburban houses, or have second homes in the woods, or beautiful apartments in Manhattan. Poor people provide texture and useful cannon fodder. If a poor person is in a lead role, they either aspire up (the dreadful Maid in Manhattan) or its an indie-ish movie (Three Billboards… blah, blah, blah). And so it is in How It Ends: lovely, beautiful rich people surviving the apocalypse (maybe). Phew! Now, we wouldn’t want the great unwashed with any degree of personal agency and they certainly aren’t interesting. Again, but it isn’t as if How It Ends is the only movie guilty of this.
The movie’s largest trope is that it is two men doing the saving of the poor (I mean unfortunate, not without money – I’m mean come on), pregnant woman. Luckily, she is played by the beautiful Kat Graham, ‘cos you wouldn’t bother saving an ugly person. Imagine it. What about a poor, ugly person? Oh, the horror. It is unthinkable. Okay, okay, I’m just messing with you. That would just be silly. Golly, if I was poor and ugly I’d want the apocalypse to end my misery.
Essentially, How It Ends is a perpetual-chase/race-against-time plot, and the action keeps rolling from one disaster to the next. What worked well was the sense of not completely knowing what was going on. There are only snatches of information, gleaned from people along the way or brief moments when a piece of technology starts working again. There is doubt as to whether the mysterious events are natural, preternatural, a foreign government or something else altogether. This could also be viewed as a road movie, with the confines of the car and the road amping up a feeling of claustrophobia and myopia in the unfolding events. The car chases and stunts are pretty good, not Ronin or even Death Race good, but good nonetheless. The violence man-on-man is not gratuitous and often lets the viewer’s imagination do the work. The violence isn’t cartoonish either – people who get shot don’t shrug it off; those doing the shooting feel the consequences of their actions; those who’ve never shot before don’t know how guns work. I liked this. If I have to see another movie where someone’s neck is broken by a quick twist of the head, I’m going to mobilise some ugly, poor people to descend on Hollywood. They’ll probably think it is a zombie Apocalypse and a group of men with second homes in the Hamptons will sort it all out. God bless Ammerrica’.
All in all, it is a fun romp of a movie, with some solid performances from its male leads (of course). The special effects are nicely done but not overdone. It ticks all the right boxes but lacks any genuine originality. There is grit but it is a far cry from The Road or even Road Warrior. With Hollywood pouring all its cash into superhero movies, at least someone is funding some original scripts for action movies. One of the rules of action movies is that there isn’t an expectation for thinking. However, this is an action-horror of sorts, and one of the rules of horror is that you can be using metaphor to explore deeper issues, this movie does not. So in sum, fun, good enough, worth a watch, nothing special, all the predictable tropes executed professionally but without originality.


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