Kevin MacDonald is a talented director. The Last King of Scotland was an excellent morally objectionable and ethically grey drama centered on characters caught in a crisis of compromise. How I Live Now is the director’s latest, and although it is peppered with similar sentiment and high concept, it does not quite achieve its multi-tiered genre ambitions, but damn does it try.
Adapted from a young adult novel of the same name, the film follows thoroughly unlikeable and mentally unstable Daisy (the always excellent Saoirse Ronan). The punk rock aesthetics of the start of the film embody Daisy’s tough indifference. She lands in a place preparing for war – that place is England. She quickly relocates, by order of her estranged father, to the quiet countryside where she lives with her aunt and cousins. The set-up of the film is layered with tension and mystery, who is this girl, why is she here, war with who? You will ask yourself similar questions and be slightly letdown by the films inability to answer any of them. Regardless Daisy and her cousins find themselves isolated after an extreme incident and a decision that she makes after falling for her distant cousin Eddie (George MacKay) changes everything.
Simply put, How I Live Now is a hard film to summarize; the poster depicts Daisy, looking coolly confused and sporting some neat earphones, behind her a war-torn plains. What is the mood this film is trying to convey? Even it is not sure and MacDonald’s direction traipses through genre elements as we get to the core of the story. It is in fact an unconventional romance – a simple message of doing anything for love is complicated by a state of national conflict. This jarring premise is played out to its fullest extent, which is ultimately very impressive. In a short running time, MacDonald has taken us on quite an epic trip through a nigh-apocalyptic scenario. At times the film reminded me of Gareth Evan’s road trip sci-fi Monsters or 28 Days Later, at others Stand By Me.
I felt constantly on my toes, particularly when the film picked up a restless pace of tension, frustration and terror. It does not all work and there are so many half-baked elements at play, but ultimately How I Live Now is a strong perilous narrative fraught with tragedy and romance that at its best moments prove deeply affecting.
[rating=3] and a half
Kwenton Bellette - follow Kwenton on Twitter here: @Kwenton