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Film / How It Ends

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How It Ends is a action/suspense/thriller film released on July 13, 2018 for Netflix's streaming service. Starring Theo James, Forest Whitaker and Kat Graham, the film was announced as early as 2011 but did not begin production until 2015, with filming to begin in 2017.

It is set before and after an apocalyptic earthquake strikes California, and focuses on Will and Tom as they travel across the country to Seattle to find and rescue Sam, who is Will's girlfriend and Tom's daughter. Throughout the country, the duo find that society has quickly broken down — with access to virtually all of the midwest and beyond being blocked off by the military. The two must brave this no man's land to achieve their goal.


  • After the End: Society breaks down fast once fiber optics are taken out nationwide. Within days of the incident, most people are nowhere to be seen from the midwest onward and roving gangs are startlingly normalized in-universe.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It never is explained what exactly is happening, just that an earthquake destroyed California and out of control volcanism destroyed most of Washington. Some theories are tossed around in-universe, like a radio broadcast in Ricki's town wonders if it was some sort of nuke and a family Will encounters claiming it started in Los Angeles. Random hints are thrown in like the birds also acting strangely, abnormal thunderstorms, Ricki's compass going wack, and Aurora Borealis occurring in Seattle at night. Ultimately, however, it remains a mystery.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: It appears it doesn't takes even a full day after such a disaster to happen for thieving gangs to start to roam the roads of America.
  • Artistic License – Cars: Will comes across a fallen military convoy and salvages some gasoline. Military vehicles run on diesel fuel, not regular gasoline. It ultimately ends up not mattering, as the car breaks down completely before he can use the fuel, so he uses it to cremate Tom instead.
  • Beard of Evil: The first real antagonist Tom and Will encounter is some impostor posing as a highway patrol cop. That the guy sports a wild, fuzzy, generally shifty-looking beard seems to be a major part of what tips Tom off about his true nature. In fairness, this violates most law enforcement dress codes.
  • Becoming the Mask: Tom hires Ricki and later threatens to kick her out if she doesn't follow through. By the next day or two, she and the guys get along well, to the point that Tom tries to help Will in convincing her that she did good and should stay after she gets some thieves killed, and later feels bad when she quits and calls them bad people.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Ricki (Grace Dove) has hers very short and messy, keeping with her other tomboy traits.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Tom is the only character in the film to keep his language civil most of the time. Will and Ricki on the other hand drop F-bombs in every other sentence, and the former has a few lines that consist of nothing but them.
  • Color Wash: Pretty much as soon as the protagonists got onto the road, the film was almost permanently washed in various shades of red and brown as the scenes demanded.
  • Conspiracy Theorist:
    • Some of the radio broadcasts theorize that this is some sort of biblical event or that North Korea and/or China did it.
    • Jeremiah thinks this is some sort of Government Conspiracy to experiment on people, believing that it was a nuclear bomb followed by a computer virus to instill chaos. At the end of the day, Will doesn't give a damn about what caused it because it doesn’t change anything.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Jeremiah, the man who took in Sam after the city got completely wiped out by whatever the heck it was (apparently a volcano). Will can see that he obviously got infatuated with Sam and is planning on how to kill Will from the moment they meet, and decides not to tell him his gun still has One Bullet Left because of it — a measure that comes in handy the very next day.
  • Disappeared Dad: It's mentioned that Will's father left when he was a kid. Since then they only see each other once every couple years or so (and he has another family in Idaho).
  • Disaster Movie: In a sense, though the focus is mostly on those out of range of said disaster. The ending jumps full on into this genre, however.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Will is one of the rare examples of an adult US movie character that never even touched a gun in his life, let alone handled one with any degree of competency. Tom is forced to talk him through the entire process of loading and arming his SIG Sauer handgun so Will can shoot the bad guys during a hectic car chase.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Tom dies right after shooting an exit for Will when they get caught in a shootout on the bridge.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Ricki is shocked and horrified when the trio investigate a rollover caused by bandits, all passengers having been killed. As it turns out later, she takes issue with murder.
    • Tom worries that the car might break down on the road, which is why he hires Ricki to join them so she can fix it in case. He's right; After Tom dies, the car breaks down and Will is forced to abandon it. Ricki has left by then.
  • Genre Blind: The protagonists display an astonishing lack of savvy when it comes to dealing with other people in the lawless, apocalyptic world they find themselves in. They regularly and repeatedly stop the car when they encounter other people even though it tends to be painfully obvious that they're walking into a trap or ambush. Will can be forgiven for being a pampered city kid way out of his depth, but grizzled military veteran Tom really should know better.
  • Heroic BSoD: Will briefly has one after Tom dies and the car breaks down.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Will and Tom try to assure Ricki that the death of the thieves was necessary for their own survival. Ricki refuses to take in any of it.
  • Internet Incorporated: Implied, as it seems that wiping out California took out telecommunications across the country.
  • Irony: Ricki notes this when Tom spots an Army Blackhawk helicopter going by, listing all of the other native tribes who they named helicopters after, but previously tried to wipe out (the character and actress are native too).
  • Living MacGuffin: Sam is Tom's daughter, Will's girlfriend/fiancée, and the sole reason why the two men embark on the dangerous journey the film chronicles. If not for her, their lives and those of many others would've taken a much different turn from the moment the event hits.
  • Man on Fire: During the bridge scene, Tom shoots out an enemy truck's engine which subsequently explodes. Seconds later, a man covered in flames exits the vehicle...though because this is cut short enough to be hard to spot, it may have been done so due to its absurdity.
  • Meaningful Echo: After jokingly telling Will that she‘s going to be a rapper in California, she adds, "You think I can't make it?". Later, when Will tries to persuade her to stay with him and Tom, she says the same thing.
  • Mysterious Past: Ricki mentions that she's been surviving on her own ever since she was born. At the very least, it suggests she was an orphan, which would explain why no one on her reservation seemed to care when she left with Will and Tom.
  • Necessarily Evil: Will and Tom try to comfort Ricki that it was okay that the thieves died because the trio wouldn't have lasted longer if they had let them take the gas.
  • No Ending: After Will kills Jeremiah in self-defense, the nearby volcano erupts, so he grabs Sam and they drive off with intent to drive north to Canada before the pyroclastic flow reaches them while telling each other that they love them. The movie ends right after they outrun the cloud.
  • Non-Indicative Title: It's called How It Ends, but the apocalypse is never even vaguely explained. The movie itself also has No Ending.
  • Not What I Signed Up For: Ricki after indirectly getting two thieves killed.
  • One Bullet Left: Will is eventually reduced to a single bullet for Tom's gun.
  • Outrun the Fireball: The climactic scene involves Will and Sam outrunning a super-volcano eruption in a beat up old 4x4.
  • Overprotective Dad: Tom has all the hallmarks of one, which an exasperated Will eventually calls him out on during their dinner in the opening chapter. He doesn't take it well.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The fake cop Tom and Will run afoul of calls Will a faggot for no apparent reason.
  • Properly Paranoid: Will hides his last bullet when showing the gun to Jeremiah, making him think it's just a Weapon for Intimidation. When Jeremiah tries to kill him, Will uses the last bullet to kill him.
  • Retired Badass: Tom is a retired Marine Corps officer with almost 30 years of service under his belt, and he does get a few opportunities to put that training to good use. Unfortunately, he's too Genre Blind to seize most of them in time.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Whether or not the disasters that devastated the West Coast were actually man-made or not and the true extent of the destruction or why the little we see of government action is so damn secretive.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Shortly before the TV network cuts out early in the movie, the news ticker mentions people dying in Europe due to a massive heat wave. When the film was released, Europe (among other regions of the world) really was suffering from one of the most intense heat waves in recorded history, with numerous deaths attributed to the effects across various nations.
  • Road Trip Plot: All except the first ten minutes of the film. The rest involves Will and Tom making their way to Seattle.
  • Scenery Gorn / Scenery Porn: The film oscillates freely between desolate scenes of destruction and chaos, interrupted by extended beauty shots of the protagonists cruising through gorgeous landscapes on their way to Seattle, which the mysterious event has turned into an utterly devastated ruin covered in volcanic ashes.
  • Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse!: Will and Tom lie, threaten and kill their way through the United States to get to their wife/daughter on the East Coast. While they have a pretty altruistic reason (and in the latter it's self-defense) it still earns them a well-deserved What the Hell, Hero?.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
  • Secretly Dying: Tom suffers multiple rib fractures early on, and it soon becomes clear that they punctured his lungs. He seems aware of it but refrains from telling Will until his lungs almost collapse, forcing him to rely on Will for some emergency surgery. He dies a couple hours later regardless.
  • Take That!: Ricki identifies an army helicopter as a Blackhawk. When Tom asks how she knows, she notes that it's ironic that the U.S. military named their helicopters after Native American tribes despite subjugating them.
  • Third Wheel: Jeremiah, who gave Sam a place to stay after Seattle fell, is clearly aware of his status as this the moment Will shows up at his wilderness home. It quickly devolves into a Friend Versus Lover scenario where Jeremiah tries to kill Will, and fails.
  • Tomboyish Name: Ricki, fitting with her overall tomboy looks and manner. It's unclear if this is a nickname.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: If you've watched the lengthy Netflix trailer in its entirety, you've seen pretty much every important event, plot twist and money shot the movie has, down to the very ending. The only asset it doesn't spoil (by virtue of complete omission) is the third main character, Ricki.
  • Truth in Television: Mt. Rainier is set to erupt sometime in Washington's future. However, the volcano that erupted at the end of the movie is likely not Mt. Rainier, as the snow and ice there would turn its pyroclastic flow into lahar.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Ricki is a young indigenous woman who's first met on her reservation. She dropped a few anvils about the treatment of Native Americans, but then disappeared entirely from the plot after being forced to indirectly kill the bandits who robbed them.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: While Tom certainly won't win beauty contests anytime soon, his wife Paula is cut from a completely different cloth.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Ricki is quite pretty, in spite of her messy hair and unflattering clothes.
  • Unspecified Apocalypse: So many details are left up in the air about the disaster that it becomes one of these. Lampshaded near the end of the film with Jeremiah (who is revealed to be a Crazy Survivalist) saying the typical barrage of "the Government is behind this" conspiracy theories and Will bluntly says that Jeremiah is just as much in the dark about what the hell caused it as Will is.
  • Viking Funeral: Will eventually does this to Tom alongside their non-functional car.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Tom initially keeps his gun unloaded, as the threat of it is enough to scare off some would-be muggers.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit:
    • A hooker uses the classic Slut-Shaming claim on Will so that she and her guy friends can intimidate and rob him. Tom pulls a gun on them and scares them off.
    • A different woman pulls a more classic gambit later on as they pass a settlement in flames. In this case, she and her husband are actually in distress, but were threatened into colluding with a group of bandits who subsequently robbed the protagonists of their gas.
  • Wrench Wench: Ricki ticks all the boxes as her reservation's resident mechanic.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: On Ricki's first night, the trio come across a bandit attack and they investigate it. Ricki takes too long to return to the car when the bandits return and is nearly caught, causing Tom to almost drive off without her and having to be convinced by Will not to. After stopping for her, she threatens not to fix their car if they risk her life again, to which Tom replies that he'll kick her out (or possibly ''kill’’ her) if she doesn’t carry out her end of the bargain.
  • You Monster!:
    • In the middle of a forest fire, two thieves force a woman to fake calling for help after they injure her husband and ruin their van. When this catches the trio's attention and causes a conflict, she refuses to join the trio and stays with her husband during the fire, calling them as equally bad as the thieves.
    • Ricki breaks down after helping Will and Tom kill the thieves to get their gas back, refusing to join them any further on their journey to Seattle in fears of continuing to kill others for them again.