Nuclear attacks in Europe, an invasion force occupying the British Isles and coming of age drama; Kevin MacDonald's How I Live Now (HILN) is an odd film. American teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is sent by her father to stay with her aunt and cousins in rural England. While she's coming to terms with essentially travelling back in time to rurality, Daisy overhears her Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) — a remote government liaison of some kind - being called to assist coordinating the fall-out of an impending attack. Left to their own devices, Daisy and her cousins Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird) and Eddie (George MacKay) are left to face war.
MacDonald takes two tacts with how you look at the unfolding events of HILN. There's the visceral and disturbing aesthetic of a modern England occupied by an unknown foreign power. Picturesque rolling vales feel ominous as water supplies are poisoned. County suburbs are turned into worker barracks and the surviving populace is put to toil fields for a distant war effort. It's refreshing to confront war in this peaceful setting because it regains its potency. MacDonald uses Daisy as the prism through which we experience this film. Writers Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni and Meg Rosoff force us to see this heinousness through a naive, self-obsessed filter. Instead of seeing (as the audience does) the machinations of country's trying to get their citizens out of this war zone, or the stiff jab of martial law Daisy's infatuation with Eddie and their perceived obligation to maintain their remaining family. There's also this strange etherial spirituality to Daisy and Eddie's relationship, which tonally felt like it undermined the brutality of this projection of modern nuclear war. It's a strange story with the provocative idea that humanity, like Australian native fauna, requires a fire (figuratively speaking) to bloom.
Ronan has character acting chops beyond her years. As the petulant and insular (and American) Daisy is an outsider. MacDonald puts you inside the echo chamber of her head - whispers, instructions and insecurities form the unreliable voice over that has you wondering whether you're faced with a character that's unstable or you're just privy to the neurotic inner monologue of a typical teen girl. She's floral and fragile beginning this journey. She gains a wild, maternal instinct to protect her Piper (Bird).
George MacKay, breakout star of the wonderful For Those In Peril, stars as Ronan's elder cousin Eddie. He's portrayed with a mystical edge, perceived by Daisy as something more than your regular country boy. The Impossible's Tom Holland as Isaac is a sweet boy next door, attempting to navigate that strange in between faze of adolescence on the cusp of young adulthood.
How I Live Now could have been called Tomorrow When The War Began in rural England and my cousins and I decided to live a hippy rural existence until shit got real; but that would have been far too literal. HILN shares the brutality and oxymoronically the galvanising power of war.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Written by: Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, Meg Rosoff from the novel by Penelope Skinner
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay, Harley Bird, Danny McEvoy and Anna Chancellor
BLAKE HOWARD IS A WRITER, A PODCASTER, AND THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.