Your heart races. Her panic is your panic; you almost expect them to catch you. You are caught in the moment so entirely that it is your decision as much as hers to pull the trigger…
Kevin McDonald directs this coming-of-age story set in Great Britain against the backdrop of World War III, exploring the brittle veneer of society in the face of calamity and the triviality of the rules which we impose upon ourselves. While the film begins with a tone similar to a teenage love story of the Twilight persuasion, the continual, ominous build of suspense prevents it from feeling disjointed when it transitions into the later devastating sequences. Images of childhood and nature are starkly contrasted with scenes of destruction and death, forcing the audience to consider the impact of war in a country which we consider safe and civilised.
Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is first introduced as the stereotypical rebellious American teenager, sent to live with her British cousins for the summer. She has all the trappings of angst: piercings, ripped tights, a bad attitude and a painful relationship with her father. This is a role which does not suit the otherworldy Ronan. The actress’ performance is jarring and unbelievable and, fortunately, quickly fades when the character is confronted by love and loss. Bleached hair aside, Ronan is as enchantingly vulnerable as ever.
The only real issue I had with How I Live Now was the ever inconceivable notion of ‘true love’. I refuse to comprehend a world where two people, let alone sixteen year olds… let alone cousins, can fall in deep, meaningful, forever-after love in little more than a week. Lust, sure, but love? Yet this minor flaw is entirely absolved by the phenomenal chemistry between Ronan and George Mackay, who plays Edmond. They burn on screen and, cynicism aside, you believe their passion.
How I Live Now is not heart-warming. It is not an all-round good time. Instead, it is a film that recognises the flawed human perception of the “important” things in life and shows the harsh realities of how life could be. If you are looking for something to cheer you up, please do not see this film. If you are looking for an immersive, real experience, I’d recommend it without hesitation as the best movie I have seen all year.
Reviewed by Emily Francine Palmer
Rating out of 10: 9