by / October 2nd, 2013 /

How I Live Now

Review by on October 2nd, 2013

 1/5 Rating

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay, Anna Chancellor, Hayley Bird
Certificate: 15a
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: October 4th

After his success with Bob Marley documentary MarleyLast King of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald returns to the realm of feature films with How I Live Now, a dark, dystopian tale of young lovers torn apart in the midst of a nuclear war.

Truculent New York teen Daisy (Ronan) arrives in England to spend the summer with her country cousins as the world stands on the brink of all-out war. Estranged from her father and without her deceased mother to rely on, the self-absorbed loner opts to hide herself away in a bedroom rather than engage with her hosts. But boredom soon takes hold and, reluctantly, Daisy decides to join the party.

With her aunt spending most of her time at peace talks in Geneva, the youngsters have the run of the farm and enjoy long days roaming the surrounding area and doing as they please. Daisy even falls for the oldest of them, Edmond (George MacKay), but their summer of love is rudely interrupted by a terrorist nuclear attack. Civil law is suspended and armed forces soon arrive, separating the boys from the girls before taking them to labour camps. A desperate and enraged Daisy escapes her compound in the hope of making it back to the farm where she hopes to be reunited with her beau. But his whereabouts are unknown, and the journey back to their countryside idyll is fraught with danger.

Based on Meg Rosoff’s award-winning novel of the same name, How I Live Now is a teen romance set against a backdrop of chaos that has been sown by adults. The reasons for the conflict that casts such a large shadow remain unexplained throughout, which some may find unsatisfactory. But as a device it works perfectly because it helps to drive home the sense of confusion felt by Daisy and Co, who don’t seem to know a whole lot about what is going on either.It’s all in keeping with the spirit of a film that does not like to spell everything out anyway. Macdonald does an excellent job in giving How I Live Now a lyrical feel through his clever use of sound and imagery. The destruction wrought by war is depicted unflinchingly, haunting images of mass graves, soldier brutality and roads strewn with animal carcasses leaving a lasting impression.

Ronan’s career trajectory continues on its upward curve with an outstanding performance. Although she is playing a teen, this is a role which demands maturity and balance to move through the gears effectively. At first a sullen adolescent , Daisy is transformed into a carefree lover before being forced to go into survival mode as her world is shattered by forces beyond her control. MacKay has a quieter presence but is no less effective, while his character’s siblings Isaac (Tom Holland) and young Piper (Harley Bird) add variety and humour to proceedings.

How I Live Now isn’t perfect – Daisy’s internal monologue in which she tells herself to think positively can be wearisome, and there’s a strong element of idealised romance in the portrayal of her relationship with Edmund. But Macdonald has delivered something refreshingly different which amounts to much, much more than just your average run-of-the-mill teen flick.