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.
Although this is another Vampire movie to add to the full, of not bursting list that has graced our screens in the past. Byzantium takes a somewhat different approach.
If one were to enter this film with no concept in their head, the title 'Byzantium' my simply be a cool title that references to the ancient city where presently Istanbul stands. Director, Neil Jordan who also directed Interview with the Vampire, sets this film off with no indication of vampires. But as the film develops, it doesn't focus simply on the supernatural aspect, but is boiled down to the relationship between two female vampires and their place in society. Unlike other vampire stories, not only do they focus on two women but they don't become vampires from the commercialized way of a bite. Despite the film being about vampires, writer Moira Buffini executes it in such a way thatthe supernatural aspect could easily be overlooked and still leave a compelling story of how this seemingly random relationship came to be.
The film opens on Eleanor, brought to life by the captivating Saoirse Ronan, as she discusses why she writes her stories down although they must remain untold. Having this as an opening, it sets up the atmosphere of being trapped and burdened by one's past. But although her stories are clearly more elaborate than the average person, it creates a sense of relatability as everyone holds secrets that they cannot share. Her clear sense of innocence and youthful purity contrasts with the introduction of Clara. Clara, whose played by the equally charming Gemma Arterton, creates a stark difference to Eleanor as she is found in a strip club, half naked, grinding on a man. Eleanor describes her as "my savior, my burden" which instantly implies that behind her innocence is Clara protecting her from the harshness of reality in any way she can. Although their relationship is not explained from the onset. It is obvious that they are bonded, though not necessarily by choice.
Like most movies, a male (or two) are introduced in order to create a wedge. Eleanor struggles to find herself while trying to be who she has been told to be. Whilst Clara remains just as hard to dissect as before. In fact, Clara appears to be a modern take on the femme fatal as the facade she puts up draws men in who want to help her and inevitably lead to their downfall. Even though Clara is tough and at times almost heartless, it is hard to hate her character with the moments of sincerity and fierce protectiveness she has over Eleanor.
As the film unravels and we're given glimpses into their pasts, both when they were human and after they were turned, their individual struggles are aired. They may not share the same troubles many people still face, but once Clara's past is revealed it creates an understanding of why she has become the person she is today. She had a youthful innocence, very much like Eleanor still does. But due to unfortunate circumstances molded her into the spiteful character. Young Clara who was forced into a brothel is sadly not an outdated concept so it brings a story set in the past to a current problem, further adding a touch of realism.
In fact, for most of the first half of the film, the concept of vampire's is glossed over to establish a basis to set up Clara and Eleanor's established characters before introducing glimpses into their pasts and answering the larger questions of their past.
Frank, played by Caleb Landry Jones, is the young male who comes between Eleanor and Clara. Although not initially set up as a love interest for Eleanor, he becomes something unique to her- a friend. Such a storyline is typical with nerds or social awkward people. But Eleanor's story is one of secrets and struggle with creating meaningful connections. Frank is important than just being someone for Eleanor to create a relationship with (romantic or otherwise) but he also disrupts Clara and Eleanor's flow that had been working for years. As his presence has awoken something in Eleanor making her be less passive about her life and want to do something for herself by staying put whilst going against Clara's demands. It is the first, noticeable character development for Eleanor. Which touches home on the idea of the teenagers pulling away from their parents or guardians grasp. For once, Eleanor wants to establish her own persona.
The film has arching themes of secrets, protection, struggle and love. It allows the audience to still be able to connect and sympathize with their situations. It is also presented in such a way that draws away from the typical vampire flick that takes place typically in the evenings or shadowed rooms or creating an elaborate story as to why they can walk in the day. Although Clara and Eleanor are not tanning, they are certainly not restricted to the darkness and are allowed to walk among humans. What I found particularly pleasing is that there is almost never any harsh lighting. Most daytime shots are during overcast days, which are clearly cold. It adds a rigidness and a discomfort that sunshine could not replicate. Further reinforcing the idea that nothing in their lives are blue skies and happy, rather they live in a current state of bleakness. This unflattering blandness engulfs them as they run from one place to the next hiding not only from those who are a threat but their pasts. Yet in the safety of their house, the soft lighting gives the false pretense of safety. Not only does the weather help reinforce particular situations but creates a pathetic fallacy which further reminds viewers of the complexity of their lives.
Even the attire is an important feature. Not only does it establish where we are in the timeline of either Eleanor or Clara's life by changing between colonial clothes of the past and common clothes of the present. But it reestablishes the characters personality. In Eleanor's case, she is often wearing multiple layers of comfortable clothes that are either dull colors or earthy shades. This implies her longing for not only protection but comfort- something she doesn't have in a conventional way with Clara. But the dull colors also establishes the fact that she would rather blend in then stand out. In comparison to this, Clara is introduced wearing lingerie revealing not only much of her skin but her risque and shameless side. When wearing more conventional outfits, they are almost always tight, revealing, black outfits that shows off her figure. It reflects her personality as tough and fearless but also acts as a shield or a facade that she is heartless and does not care for anything. They style of her clothes are also purposeful since they draw in male attention which she has learned to manipulate to get her way- a more realistic version of 'glamoring' found in some vampire lore. Yet, in the flashbacks she wears loose, white, colonial style dresses which reminds us how similar she was to Eleanor and the way she was before she changed.
One narrative aspect I really enjoyed about the film were the snippets of information about both how they became to be vampires and how they know each other. But establishing their relationship from the offset without explaining their connection instantly draws you in to deduce their past. Additionally, the slow reveal of their individual journeys to becoming vampires is not anything like what I have come to expect. The stark contrast between Ronan and Arterton's acting keeps you interested to understand why Clara is so harsh and Eleanor is conflicted with her story. This unconventional vampire story kept me intrigued from the first minute till the conclusion. The wavering pace as it started slow, giving you a taste of what to come then melding into action sequences kept me excited for what will happen next. Byzantium was a breath of fresh air among the endless list of corny, overly romanticized vampire films. But the best part of is that even if you have no interest in vampires, the film is not purely focused on it and Ronan and Arterton bring to life this confusing yet fascinating relationship.