Dystopian worlds are the popular genre of the year but How I Live Now takes it on in a unique way. Typically these worlds have distinct differences between ours and theirs. But this film opts to create a stark realism creating an eerily real atmosphere.
Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is a rebellious teen from the US visiting her bohemian cousins in the UK. She refuses to try new things, sticking to her guns- her complete control over herself. But her layers start to peel away when she becomes involved with Eddie (George MacKay). Of course, that is when all hell breaks loose. The UK is in the midst of World War III and the cousins are all on their own. After living off the land, Daisy, Eddie, Piper (Harley Bird) and Isaac (Tom Holland) are forced apart but vow to be reunited. The film tracks Daisy and Piper's journey back to her love, Eddie. Fighting the odds to simply make it back alive, but that doesn't mean that it will leave them untouched.
Director, Kevin MacDonald, has a strong documentary film background which is extremely present throughout the film. The film features the beautiful scenery of Wales, with its swooping establishing shots that, although breathtakingly beautiful, come with an air of fear. Simply because the usage of real locations that correlate with the real world poses the idea that this (the war) could easily happen today. Especially since, not only is the year the narrative is set, is never mentioned. But because MacDonald never mentions what caused the war or who it is between. This lack of clarity reestablishes the idea that this could happen any time.
But that is the great thing about the film. Although clearly happening during a horrible war, that is not the purpose of the film. It is a love story and it stick to that. Unlike other films that may evolve from a love story to a war one, How I Live Now does comment on the war but does not focus on it. One knows that the war is still going on through distant sounds and Daisy and Piper stumbling across the aftermath.
Ronan creates a powerful leading lady. She had to be able to allow the audience watch her strip away her tough outer layer to be more accepting. But she does not transform from the mean girl to the nice one in a lovely montage. Instead, she allows herself less self-control but never really loses her skepticism and anger. When escaping through the woods with Piper, instead of being understanding of her younger cousins exhaustion, she actually gets mad at her and questions leaving her behind. She is a woman with a single mission- to get back with Eddie. It deviates from her typical characters, as for once, she gets to play a normal teenager with typical issues. Of course Daisy is not typical in the fact that she has to survive a war but Ronan plays it off in such a way that she is still a relateable character. She has to turn Daisy from a disliked character to one that is rooted for in the end. It is not an easy feat but Ronan is the one to do it. By the end of the film, one cannot help but to be hoping that Daisy finds Eddie.
It is not a complicated narrative but it executed in such a way that one still feels compelled. The beautiful mix between gorgeous scenery and the mission to get home is a journey that many people may relate to, literally or metaphorically. Thrown in the midst of the other films of 2013, How I Live Now stands out for a number of reasons. First, it does not utilize over the top extra effects, allowing for natural beauty and effects to lead the way. Second, it is not overly complicated. The straight forward narrative is able to develop in a natural way over the film instead of fighting to fit every ounce of information into it. Lastly, MacDonald aimed to get 'unknowns' for his film. Although each actor has been in other things, save for Ronan, they are still particularly unknown actors. On top of this, the films main actors are all children. This allows the innocents of youth to seep out, as well as letting the film focus on the narrative rather than the performance of big name actors.
Overall, I was happy to watch this film in the midst of other stereotypical rom-coms. Whether the narrative is appealing to you or not, the visuals alone is able to draw you in with natural beauty that has been overlooked for modern sets.