Its an unfortunate title, How it Ends, because my biggest gripe with this film is, er, how it ends. I really don’t want to spoil the film for anybody but, er, it doesn’t really, er, end. It just… stops, somehow. Dishearteningly, it really feels like it pulls a ‘end of part one’ on the viewer without any warning. I have no idea if a part two is or was ever intended, or if its just the ending that the film-makers originally wanted without any cynical ‘we can spin another film from this’ ploy. But it ends badly, and rather undermines the entire enterprise.
Thinking about it, I could easily summarize this film as simply being a Cloverfield wannabe. Infact, if it were a Cloverfield movie, I’m sure it would get a better reception than it probably will, Some of the vagueness and conceits in this film are just a part of what seems to make that Cloverfield franchise ‘tick’ and without that attachment leaves this solo effort failing.
It doesn’t begin particularly well, to be honest; handsome designer-stubble/perfect hair hunk Will (Theo James) and beautiful/perfect hair Samantha (Kat Graham) are hopelessly in love having a idyllic life in Seattle. Everything is so perfect, they are going to have a child- their only problem is that Samantha’s father Tom (Forest Whitaker) is an ex-marine who doesn’t really think that Will is worthy of his daughter. While on a business trip in Chicago, Will pays Samantha’s parents a visit, intending to ask Tom for his blessing for the happy couple to be married. The meeting doesn’t go well, but then some Cloverfield-like event occurs over on the East Coast knocking out all communication and power, a disruption that spreads across the country and closes down all air travel. Tom and Will form an unlikely pair as they jump in a car and drive across the country to ‘save their girl’, beginning to form a bond of respect and friendship as they risk life and limb as society starts to break down in the face of this unknown/unspecified global disaster.
Yeah, its very Cloverfield. We see military jets fly overhead, travel networks are shut down, trains of military equipment and personnel travel East, we see the smoking wreckage of crashed airplanes. Any hick with a gun decides to go all Mad Max over gasoline and towns close themselves off from unwelcome visitors. It all rather formulaic and bland, oddly enough,, but for some reason I’ve always had a soft spot for these post-Apocalyptic road movies; there is something almost irresistible about seeing how easy civilized behavior breaks down and society snaps. Seeing some ordinary guy struggle to do the right thing and just survive out of his usual comfort-zone can be a dramatic plot device: guess its a male right-of-passage thing.
Perhaps it would have been more interesting had it been a role-reversal, if it had been Samantha struggling to get across country to Will, or maybe that would have been too much ‘me-too’ and would have gotten shot down by the ‘too-pc’ brigade (sexual and social politics in media is getting to be a minefield of late).
I will confess that I nevertheless rather enjoyed it. The two leads are good value, albeit Whitaker is obviously just going through the motions and is largely wasted- a better decision script-wise might have been to incapacitate Will and have Tom fight to get the young man back to Samantha despite not wholly approving of him, if only for his daughters sake. At least that would have given Whitaker something to chew on. This is partly what is so frustrating about films like this- there are all sorts of things that the film-makers might have done to shake things up and make it more interesting and novel. As it is, any goodwill the film earns on the road trip through the apocalypse (there are some nice segments and character beats) is completely undermined by that awfully unsatisfying ending.
A Netflix original, I suppose there is some possibility that given enough views, whatever the reviews/ratings, this film may get that ‘part two’ which might actually save the damn thing via hindsight, but as it stands, I’d recommend this with caution. Its no disaster (sic) and while the casting is largely uninspired (whatever happened to casting ‘ordinary’ or average types?) the production values are pretty good for a $20 million flick.
The real issue is the open-ended nature of what the hell is going on (in true Cloverfield fashion, none of the global apocalyptic event seems to be explained- Aliens? The Chinese? Eco-disaster?) which leaves a bad taste in the mouth when one is expecting some explanation or resolution by the finale and it never comes. It really doesn’t feel complete, almost as if there is another reel missing or they just shot the movie chronologically and they somehow ran out of money.
The film does have its moments but it does really leave the impression that it could have been much more- a missed opportunity, certainly.