Director: Kevin Macdonald
Screenwriters: Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, Penelope Skinner
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay, Harley Bird, Anna Chancellor, Corey Johnson
Running time: 101 minutes
When conflicted, temperamental teen Daisy (Ronan) arrives in England to visit family, she’s forced to bond with her distant cousins in the wake of a nation-afflicting terrorist attack in London.
Picture, if you will, The Road meets Red Dawn in the UK with cow cheese, and you’ll have a pretty decent idea of what director Kevin Macdonald’s latest effort is all about. Not to say the latter is particularly similar in many ways, but they do share a very similar idea. The key difference between the two is that where Red Dawn is a film about national invasion and the gung-ho patriotism of its inhabitants, with a bit of pithy romance on the side, How I Live Now is a film all about romance and the power of love, which just happens to be set against the backdrop of a terrorist attack. The resemblance to The Road, on the other hand, is much stronger, with its severely melancholic tone and pseudo-apocalyptic second act centering on an “adult” and child attempting to cross the country on foot amidst the chaos and breakdown of society. Perhaps the most surprising thing about How I Live Now is that, on occasion, it actually rivals The Road’s formidable depression.
In the safe hands of Macdonald it would be hard for things to go terribly wrong. In his kinetic, flashy, confident style he hooks and reels us immediately, treating the opening sequences like an episode of Buffy which later serves to throw the audience off-guard in the dark, grueling second and third acts. The few gut-punch moments throughout have a real added impact thanks to the handling of that set-up, and while occasionally Macdonald’s decisions are unconventional, there’s never a moment where you doubt his confidence in what he’s doing.
Yet, while generally pretty effective and gripping, something doesn’t quite click. In the moment things seem to be working nicely, but once you stop and think back you won’t remember anything particularly…well, memorable. Perhaps it’s to do with borrowing so heavily from other works, rather than paying homage to them. As well as aforementioned The Road and Red Dawn, there are striking similarities to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and, to an extent, Lars Von Trier’s masterful Melancholia – both of which are far superior films. It’s potentially rewarding but delicate and dangerous ground to evoke such benchmarks in the genre. In this instance I don’t think it pays off.
The real star here is Saoirse Ronan – a sentence any film reviewer would do well to Ctrl+C. Introduced as a bitchy, unapproachable teenager, it’s rewarding to see her develop through the events of the drama as love conquers hatred and the morals unravel, and it’s even more rewarding to be treated to such fine acting. As her relationship with Edmund grows, we become increasingly aware of how much influence the Twilight saga still holds. They’re brought together from two different worlds; there’s an instant attraction; Daisy is different from others, lonely, has no mother; Edmund is tall, mysterious, handsome and doesn’t talk much. Sound familiar? A special mention must also go to young Tom Holland, who impressed us all with a powerful central performance earlier this year in The Impossible, and does likewise again here. Keep an eye on this one.
An entirely unspectacular but perfectly functional drama with some nice ideas and plenty of confidence both in front of and behind camera, but once the last frame disappears it’s strangely forgettable.