Opening to a cacophony of different internal monologues from Saoirse Ronan’s Daisy, apocaromanceadrama HOW I LIVE NOW makes it clear from the offset that this is another sideways tonal and genre leap for director Kevin Macdonald (MARLEY, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND). Although stylistically and tonally interesting, it relies too heavily on forced and rushed character connections to make it as visceral and involving as it wants to be.
Ronan plays Elizabeth, who prefers to go by ‘Daisy’ – an American teenager who is sent to spend the summer with her cousins in the English countryside. Whilst there, a global-scale conflict erupts and the cousins are torn asunder. This leaves Daisy and her youngest female cousin Piper to trek across the now barbaric landscape in search of home, and their two male cousins Isaac and Edmond, the latter of whom Daisy has begun a relationship with.
Not since ANTICHRIST has the presence of a fox been so ominous.
In terms of presenting a global nuclear conflict through the eyes of a lovestruck adolescent, Macdonald’s film (based upon a Meg Rosoff novel) does an excellent job. We first see hints in the film’s opening with airport arrival lounge TVs noting a “Paris explosion”. The mother of the family is having hushed discussions on the phone about projected casualties, and attending “emergency meetings” which will mean she has to leave the children alone in the middle of nowhere. At any given point the kids are not terribly well-informed – don’t expect this film to play political satire.
There is much to be applauded in Macdonald’s realisation of this setting. The sound of conflict is used extremely effectively, creating tension even when there is nothing placing the characters in immediate danger. The film can also be surprisingly brutal, and certainly does not shy away from the uglier aspects that such a war would bring, in favour of asinine drama. Not since ANTICHRIST has the presence of a fox been so ominous.
Anybody who has played the computer game Fallout will be familiar with the tone Macdonald seems to establish. A desolate land, but with a sense of danger hanging around like some foreboding stranger. However, for all its plus points, the script and characters don’t quite bring it home.
… horror elements laced with teen drama and police-state dystopia …
The plot pivots on the romance between Daisy and her cousin Edmond. For an aspect essentially driving Daisy’s motivation to return to the country home throughout the film, the development of this relationship is far too rushed and ludicrously moved along. Daisy falls for him even further after an absurd display that might be more at home in a film called THE COW WHISPERER. In addition, Macdonald’s choice of some soft focus, high saturation dreamboy shots of Edmond undercuts some of the more visceral imagery he assigns to Daisy’s psyche. Although George McKay does an admirable job, his blank-slate Edmond (more paranormal elements from the book having been excised) is precisely what the troubled Daisy is looking for; but the role doesn’t leave much for him to get his teeth into as a result.
HOW I LIVE NOW is an interesting take on the war drama: horror elements laced with teen drama and police-state dystopia. However, the believability of the characters lets it down, with their personal stories becoming insipid. Despite good performances from Ronan and Harley Bird as Piper, it seems destined to come up short on the personal drama front.
It seems unfortunate that the fantastical elements that stop suspension of disbelief in HOW I LIVE NOW are nothing to do with the nameless and faceless sides of the global war it depicts. Although admirable, the way the story progresses is likely to leave you saying, “Really? Is that how you live now..?”
HOW I LIVE NOW is the Cambridge Film Festival closing night film, screening at 8.30 pm. Click here to buy tickets.