They say write what you know, and the only thing any of us have known for the last year plus is a coronavirus lockdown. The next pandemic is on its way: a plague of COVID inspired films. And we wont have to wait long either. Michael Bay was first out of the gate with his critically maligned pandemic thriller Songbird. Doug Liman’s very COVID specific heist film Locked Down is already earning wide pans on HBO Max. Documentaries of the early days of lockdown have been informative and more are sure to come. Like the pandemic itself, this scourge of on the nose movies will be with us for a while.
It isn’t all bad news though. For all the filmmakers cashing in on the genre de jour, there are bound to be a few who find inspiration in our shared suffering. One such film on the horizon is How it Ends, an apocalypse comedy that captures the feeling of the coronavirus era more than the actual experience of it.
Based partially by their own lockdown induced anxieties, How it Ends is a joint writing and directing effort by Zoe Lister-Jones and her husband Daryl Wein. The film follows one day, the final day, in the life of Liza (Lister-Jones) as she and the rest of the world prepare for a life eradicating asteroid to arrive that night. Accompanied by a metaphysical manifestation of her own youth (Cailee Spaeny, henceforth referred to as young Liza), adult Liza sets off to resolve some of the regrets from her life.
As the Lizas set off across town, it becomes clear that everyone they meet is either on drugs or on edge, each dealing with the end times in their own way. Those fellow Angelenos they come across are played by a collection of the funniest stand up comics and sitcom actors of the last few years. They set things straight with an old friend (Olivia Wilde) who is convinced she has psychic powers, confront a “trash person” of an ex-boyfriend (Lamorne Morris) and buy weed from a neurotic stranger (Nick Kroll), just to name a few.
Each interaction makes up one of the many little vignettes of How it Ends that highlight the different ways in which people deal with stress and disillusionment. Not every one of the film’s comic bits works, but Lister-Jones and Spaeny provide levity even in the less stellar moments. And the moments that do work really shine. Morris as the unrepentant ex and feuding neighbors played by Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel are particularly effective.
Wrapped around all these disparate tangents is the relationship between Liza and herself. As she faces the prospects of death and whatever comes next, she’s terrified of being alone. Throughout their adventure Young Liza is constantly reminding her older self that the two have each other (or themselves?), only to be told that she doesn’t count. So much of Liza’s anxiety revolves around her inability to be at peace with herself and has nothing to do with the doom being imposed on all humanity.
How it Ends is mostly pretty formless, a string of 5-10 minute comedy bits in the streets of LA. Though the film carries with it very little meaningful depth, its dark humor captures what it feels like to be locked down with only yourself and your thoughts. More than any movie with scenes of awkward zoom calls or rabid anti-maskers, How it Ends understands the anxious weirdness of our current existence and comes at it with humor. I had a blast with it. 8/10