I’m very proud of the Recommendations page on this site. It’s built up over the years to be a fairly substantial list of movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed enough to want to publicly recommend. Of course, not every book or film fits into that category.
I’ve long been a fan of bad movies. I think if you’re even remotely interested in the art of storytelling, you can learn as much from a bad film as you can a good one. So I’ve rejigged the recommendations page to include movies which I’m happy to recommend, and those I’m not. Which brings me onto today’s film…
You might recall the time when a production company were planning to option STRAIGHT TO YOU but changed their minds at the last minute, only to release a movie a couple of years later which shared a suspiciously high number of similar scenes, themes and story beats with my book. When I started getting emails earlier this year about another movie with a not too dissimilar premise, I was concerned. I needn’t have been. Netflix’s HOW IT ENDS is nothing like STRAIGHT TO YOU. It is, however, a masterclass in how NOT to tell an apocalyptic story.
When a mysterious disaster turns the country into a war zone, a young lawyer heads west with his future father-in-law to find his pregnant fiancée.
Sweet Jesus, where do I start? I approached this film with high hopes. The trailer looked good (the trailers always do), it had a decent cast, and some of the initial reviews were positive, but man, what a let down.
STRAIGHT TO YOU had a resurgence of popularity over the summer – it often does when the sun comes out. It was a featured story on WATTPAD for quite a time, and I saw a welcome sales spike. The longer the sun stayed out here in the UK, the more people started to think, what if…? One of the things I’ve always loved about the book – both the original and the 2014 re-write – is the simplicity of the story: a couple are geographically separated, they discover the world’s about to end, they do everything they can to get back together before it’s too late. HOW IT ENDS takes a very similar approach, but it manages to unnecessarily dilute its story so as to render it completely devoid of any impact. As I said in the title of this post, by the time I was halfway through the movie, I didn’t care how it ended, just as long as it ended.
So what went wrong? Firstly, the apocalyptic event itself is poorly handled. We see just enough money shots to pique our interest, but not enough to imbue any sense of impending doom. Making a desperate dash from one part of the country to another is all well and good, but the lack of any ticking clock strips the story of any sense of urgency and, therefore, just about all drama.
Second, cliché. All too often the film resorts to cliché to keep it moving. Car chases and incidents on the road, crazy preppers etc. It felt ‘by the numbers’… oh, so this is the part where they lose their car/their car breaks down, this is the part where a key character gets fatally injured, this is the part where a madman appears to tell us eveything’s going to be okay…
Third, characters. Sorry, but I just didn’t care about anyone in this film. The backstories are under-baked, and there are numerous examples of illogical decision making by the characters. Such stupidity strips away any emotional investment. Oh, and they were all beautiful. Come the end of the world, we will all look like shit within moments of the impending apocalypse being announced (some of us already do).
Four, the ending. I won’t spoil it, because despite all I’ve said, I do still recommend you watch the film. There’s a predetermined inevitability to a movie that deals with a subject like this, but it’s still got to mean something to be worth watching. I re-watched the last five minutes to check I hadn’t missed something important. I hadn’t. It’s like the cast and crew clocked off early.
The film’s not without some merit. It has Forest Whittaker, who is always interesting to watch, even when he’s given little to work with, the opening sequences are engaging, and it looks good throughout. Ultimately, though, HOW IT ENDS has nothing to say. It’s a long-winded hotchpotch of half-ideas which don’t go anywhere, and that’s a real shame. You don’t need a multi-million dollar budget and a cast of star names to tell a post-apocalyptic story that’ll resonate with its audience: you just need to have a coherent premise and characters people will invest enough emotion in to care how they end.