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How I Live Now – film review

November 21, 2013


It’s Children Of Men … for teens.

Reviewed on Tuesday 12th November 2013


Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Screenplay by Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni and Penelope Skinner. Based on the novel by Meg Rossoff. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay, Harley Bird, Danny McEvoy and Anna Chancellor. Running time: 101 mins.

Judging by the initial set-up of this film, one could be forgiven in presuming it might be just another one of those ‘teen militia against an invading army’ movies – something along the lines of say, Red Dawn or Tomorrow When The War Began. In actuality it’s more like Alfonso Cuaron’s celebrated film Children Of Men – in that we follow a single protagonist navigating a dangerous path through a world under siege.

When icy New York teen queen Daisy is sent to stay with her cousins in the north of England, the entire country is placed under martial law after London is devastated in   a nuclear attack. Daisy and her cousins become separated – forcing Daisy to take charge of the situation and embark on a perilous journey to reunite her fractured family.

How I Live Now is a gritty and compelling rights-of-passage drama with a nuanced central performance from Saoirse Ronan. While disturbingly bleak at times, it by         no means wallows in mean-spirited nihilism – making it a dystopian journey well     worth taking.

From beginning to end, Ronan (Hanna, Atonement) carries this film; appearing in virtually every scene. And she does a terrific job in portraying the melting of an ice queen who then learns through ordeal to take responsibility for others and emerge     a better, more compassionate person. My only real issue with the character of Daisy (and indeed, the only issue I have with the film as a whole) is the inference (although it is never overtly stated) that she suffers from schizophrenia. From the very beginning we are aware she is hearing voices inside her head – commenting ceaselessly on everything she experiences. Perhaps something was lost in translation from the source novel, but there appears to be no legitimate reason for Daisy having the illness – other than it being a convenient device to verbalize her inner thoughts and feelings for the viewer’s benefit. As it ultimately has no bearing     on her character or the narrative; it seems just a tad superfluous here.


How I Live Now is imbued with a melancholic tone similar to Never Let Me Go and has a sense of immediacy and realism akin to Children Of Men. Indeed, this film could easily be described as ‘Children Of Men for young adults’.

The evocation of a country descending into military lockdown is handled with a refreshing degree of subtlety (we catch only sound-bite snatches of media reports     and glimpses of the authority’s military response) – allowing us to see these unfolding events through the eyes of our protagonist. In other words: we know only as much about what is happening as Daisy does; which has the effect of immersing us in     her experience of events. In typically British fashion, the world-building here is understated, but no less effective than what would be seen in higher-budget American productions (which might have more resources available to depict the scale of the nuclear threat – at the expense of intimacy). A prime example of this low-key approach is the depiction of the London bombing. Whereas a Hollywood production might cut away to show the awful event as a fully-rendered multi-angle CG onslaught; as the nuke detontates and the shockwave flattens the center of London – here the filmmakers opt instead to stay with Daisy and her cousins as they witness startled animals fleeing, the distant sound of thunder, followed by a huge gust of wind and finally the falling of ash, like snow flakes. It could be argued in fact; this low-key approach is far more chilling – as it leaves it to our imagination to fill in the horror     of what is left unseen.

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald (Touching The Void, The Last King Of Scotland) elicits good performances from his young cast with young British actor     Tom Holland, who displayed a natural talent in The Impossible earlier this year;     being particularly good.

Although the target audience for this movie would appear to be female teens; there     is no reason why it wouldn’t appeal to older viewers of either gender – although the grimness of tone and some of the disturbing elements would make me hesitate in recommending this film for younger audiences. In spite of its less than evocative title, I do hope this film finds favor with its target audience – as it will most definitely be on my list of top films of the year.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova East End Cinemas, Adelaide, November 12th 2013.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.


From → film reviews

  1. Hmm. I chose to not see this the other week. Will check it out on DVD. Do like the sound of it.

    • gregory moss permalink

      I’m pleased to hear it’s getting a release over there. It’s a terrific film and will probably be just as effective on Blu-ray and DVD. 🙂

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