How It Ends (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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How It Ends (2018)

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Disaster strikes on the west coast and is felt throughout the United States.  Will and Tom must put aside their hostility for one another to traverse the American landscape to save Will's girlfriend, and Tom's daughter, Sam.  David M. Rosenthal directs How It Ends from the screenplay written by Brooks McLaren which stars Theo James and Forest Whitaker.

After I finished watching How It Ends, I went searching for the poster and - once discovered - let out a big laugh.  The poster shows Will (Theo James) looking like an action hero with a bit of flare from the sun in the foreground and a transparent Tom (Forest Whitaker) looking somber in the background.  Its visual message is muddled and even after finishing How It Ends I have to wonder what the poster's creators were trying to communicate.  Is Tom an evil haunting Will, the man overseeing Will, some compatriot, or the one Will is trying to rescue?

Brook McLaren's screenplay answers, "All of the above," and David M. Rosenthal's direction responds, "Why not?"

Thus, How It Ends comes into existence with little clue about its identity as it strives to be multiple films at once and not succeeding at a blessed one of them.  Some of that has to do with how thinly stretched the apocalyptic content is if you have the barest knowledge of American weather patterns.  More of that has to do with James' lead performance that isn't exciting enough to call bland.  Then there's Whitaker, a professional and master of his field no matter where he shows up, throwing himself full speed into whatever emotional tone is required of him at the moment.How It Ends has all the ingredients of a quality train wreck without the spark of passion in filmmaking to commit to anything.  It's a dull slog, not helped by Rosenthal and cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg's decision to shoot nearly the entire film in this muted brown.  Nothing is able to stand out and even when Will and Tom come across a massive forest fire the strength of the flames melts into the same muted brown as everything else.  The Hughes brothers attempted something similar with The Book of Eli, and Eli succeeds where How It Ends fails because of the Hughes bros' grasp on the importance of heavy contrast between light and dark.

I was frequently bewildered at Rosenthal's grasp of the environmental conditions behind the muted brown.  Shortly after the duo picks up Ricki (Nicole Ari Parker), the now-trio drives into a storm that they swear is of a strength they've never seen.  I'm willing to accept a lot, but Ricki is a rural Native American (no tribe or lineage discussed because she's used for easy jabs and that's that), Tom lives in the Midwest where horrific thunderstorms are the norm instead of the exception, and Will lives in Seattle where the weather is consistently so miserable an entire genre of music owes a debt to those conditions.  The storm involves heavy rain and lightning. These are not "insane" conditions (as Will states) and - at most - they're an average Midwest thunderstorm.

These curiously strong reactions to average weather conditions might not have been so odd if How It Ends didn't look like it was filmed over any ten-mile stretch of highway in the Midwest.  Thing to remember about the Midwest is that it's extremely flat, so when other parts of How It Ends' visual strategy involves muted brown and bog-standard thunderstorms then none of the landscape is visually striking.  This is a problem when filming a disaster picture where none of the environment takes on characteristics of its own.  Even the space in the car is filmed in mostly the same angles so there's no evolution of the visuals to match the relationship changes among the trio.What little point How It Ends has is pro military and using power to keep lower class people in line.  Will's arc involves Tom berating and ordering Will to be a better killer, lose what compassion he has, and say to hell with everyone who isn't them.  This ends up being poorer folks visually characterized by cutoff shirts, gaps in their teeth, and doomsday proclamations on the radio. The "good poors", like Ricki, are abused by those around them so it's up to Tom and Will to make things better with military authority.  All of this characterization is lazy, and longtime readers will know I usually detest films that are this firmly for policing lower classes.

But I can't muster the energy to dislike How It Ends.  As a piece of visual art it's too flat and brown to even slightly rouse my imagination.  Whitaker does his best on the performance front while James' lead acting work is as dull as the photography.  Then there's Sam (Kat Graham), the ostensible end point for Tom and Will, who is such a non-character that her sole defining feature is "pregnant". Another lazy point that might make me grumpy in a more competent film instead of the barren emotional state How It Ends inspires.

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How It Ends (2018)

Directed by David M. Rosenthal.
Screenplay written by Brooks McLaren.
Starring Theo James and Forest Whitaker.

Posted by Andrew

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