There are feeble attempts to put the mysterious disaster in a larger socio-political context. We hear voices broadcast on ham radios asking if the Chinese or the North Koreans might be responsible for whatever happened out West. Earthquakes are reported, but later a character speculates that the entire event could be an act of war designed to "erase rational behavior with what appears to be a singular incident." The country is gripped with paranoia, terrified by the unknown, but it feels like cheap, knock-off hysteria.
In the current media climate, a movie like How It Ends doesn't just have to compete with all the other post-apocalyptic products available on Netflix or Amazon. It also has to distract viewers from every conspiracy theorist delivering an unending monologue on YouTube, posting on Reddit, or weaving a web of feverish speculation on Twitter. Increasingly, everyone seems to have ideas about how it ends -- just look around. The more useful question is when.
If How It Ends had a slightly more granular take on the end times, it might work. There's a flash of a more compelling movie when the characters stop by an abandoned water park covered in graffiti. A wry mechanic named Ricki (Grace Dove) who joins Will and Sam for a leg of their odyssey jumps into the water for a swim, but the water is too hot to enjoy. What happened to the water park? Did the owners just abandon it? Are there people living in the slides? It feels like the perfect set for a more intimate story, but How It Ends is too busy trying to see the whole country. It misses the beauty right in front of its face.