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Soundtrack review: How it ends (Atli Orvarsson – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: How it ends (Atli Orvarsson – 2018)



“How It Ends” is a 2018 American action disaster thriller film directed by David M. Rosenthal and written by Brooks McLaren. The film stars Theo James, Forest Whitaker, Grace Dove, Kat Graham, and Mark O’Brien. After an unknown cataclysmic event on the US West coast, a devoted father set out on a 2000 mile journey from Chicago to rescue his daughter from Seattle. During the journey an unlikely bond develops between them as they are forced to deal with a collapse in humanity, all desperate to stay alive, still unaware of what has taken place. The music was written by Atli Orvarsson.

A post apocalyptic road movie can sometimes inspire a composer to go the reflective, elegiac route instead of focusing on the action and destruction. This is how this score starts, with a couple of quietly melodic cues that describe, as it often happens with horror and disaster movies, the idyllic life from BEFORE the tragedy or event happens. It’s a trick to make us care about the characters and story, to get the listener as well emotionally involved. I eat it up and so when the action suddenly starts in “Maximum security” I am already connected to the score. It’s just an episode though because the composer goes back to the quiet piano texture that is so very well written and also quite immersive. I feel like I am taking the journey myself and while the score could count as minimalistic it speaks volumes to me. The theme for Will and Tom, a clever thing to write since in the end the movie is about them too and not necessarily about the husband and wife couple, is a beautiful and poignant piano piece.

The emotional release I get from “How it ends” is the best thing about the score; while quiet and minimalistic the music has enough weight to sink in without becoming overwhelming. A cue like “Leaving the reservation” is representative for the strengths of the album. There is that cinematic, broad electronic sound that to me evokes a vast and empty space and in the same time there is the warm emotional ambient core that identifies the persons of interest in that vast and empty land. This is the kind of sound that I don’t know how much I wanted to hear until I actually hear it; I’ve always been more drawn to the reflective, atmospheric side of music, to sparse sounds that burn slowly, to poignant piano motifs and a score like this, so simple yet so intense, is right up my alley.

“How it ends” shows Atli Orvarsson in top shape and right where he is best from my point of view: at writing minimalistic emotionally resonant music. He does that without ignoring the story: the sci-fi elements are there, the disaster elements are there, the suspense is there. Put this one in the plus column.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Will and Tom
Leaving the Reservation
Ricky Leaves
How It Ends

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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