Film Review: How I Live Now (MA15+) (UK, 2013)

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Note: This Review May Contain Spoilers

How I Live Now is at once strange and intriguing.

Set in the 21st century, How I Live Now tells the story of a young, American girl who is sent to live with her cousins in the English countryside, when a world war breaks out across the country. Daisy, the American, and her cousins, Eddie, Isaac and Piper, enjoy a few days of blissful freedom at their country home, before being evacuated and separated from one another to work in safer areas.

The war itself in the film is terrifying, and has been done superbly by director Kevin Macdonald (State of Play, The Last King of Scotland). While the beginnings, causes and even the nations involved in the war are never revealed, the scenes of bombs and safe houses are enough to convince you of its reality. There are even scenes mildly reminiscent of a World War II documentary, in which the women are working to separate edible fruits and vegetables from the piles of food rotting in the sun.

Daisy, played by Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Hanna), is an angry, petulant teenager. Ronan portrays Daisy fiercely, and you find yourself at odds with how frustrating her initial attitude is, which is in stark contrast to her later determination to find her way home. While she is interesting, it’s hard to feel sympathy for a character that begins the movie so rudely, and whose anger at everyone and everything around her goes unexplained.

The rest of the cast is mostly made up of new, young actors; however they do the film justice in their roles. Daisy’s cousins are young and free, and their lack of understanding concerning the war is sad and honest. Their innocence is very clear against a backdrop of army fatigues and, when Daisy and Piper escape the safe house they’ve been placed in, they seem dwarfed by the wild and abandoned countryside that they trek across.

The most disarming element of the film is the romance story line. Daisy has been sent to live with what appears to be her late mother’s sister and her children, and ends up falling in love with the eldest boy, Eddie. Yes, her cousin. The incest has been adapted directly from the book, and it’s a very difficult thing to get your head around, particularly when the film is set in the present. I found myself waiting to be told that they weren’t really related, but they are and it’s a weird romance to see in a film made in 2013.

The story is told well in Macdonald’s adaptation, however it leaves you feeling a bit lost and wondering the answers to questions that are never addressed. This could just be the original storyline, and with that in mind, the film has been done quite well with what it’s been given by the book. I enjoy a well-told, post-war love story and, incest aside, I found myself rooting for Daisy and Piper to make their way back to the rest of the family to live happily ever after.

It’s not your standard war-and-romance epic, but How I Live Now is unique, and will definitely remain as one of the more interesting films released this year.

REVIEW SCORE: THREE AND A HALF STARS

How I Live Now is screening nationally in select cinemas.

Running Time: 1 Hour and 41 Minutes
Rated: MA15+

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