Review: ‘How I Live Now’

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With the Crimean Peninsula occupied and Russian troops amassed upon Ukraine’s eastern boarder, the recent DVD release of How I Live Now seems chillingly appropriate.  While it’s not a Horror movie in the strictest sense, How I Live Now harkens back to 1980’s Cold-War Era films about World War III and nuclear assault, like: Threads, The Day After, The Testament, and On the Beach. While not as devastating as the more recent apocalyptic drama The Road, How I Live Now still manages to land some serious punches, essentially creating one of the bleakest coming-of-age sagas ever.

How I Live Now, directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Meg Rosoff. Check out my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her.

According to IMDB, Macdonald had originally planned to cast an unknown American actress to play 15-year-old main character Daisy, but was essentially moved to tears when 19-year-old Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Byzantium) read for the part.  It was a wise choice as Ronan’s acting is the glue that holds How I Live Now together.  She’s thoroughly convincing as the snarky, neurotic, medicated, possibly anorexic teenager, which makes her transformation throughout the film especially incredible. An immature adolescent who was sent away by her father (presumably because he didn’t want to deal with her) becomes a pillar of strength displaying courage beyond her years. Eventually, this young woman who never knew her own mother (and therefore has no idea how to be one) becomes a healing and nurturing matriarch.

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Harley Bird, who plays Daisy’s youngest cousin Piper, also gives an amazing performance.  She illustrates the way a child’s mind processes the atrocities of war and shows remarkable resilience.  Tom Holland is really good as middle-cousin Isaac; he’s got a bright personality and keen insights throughout.  Only George MacKay who plays the oldest cousin and Daisy’s love interest, Eddie, is mediocre. I understand that he is supposed to be an introvert, but his overly intense facial expressions and overacting can be off-putting.  (And by the way, was anybody else slightly taken aback by the sexual relationship between first cousins?  Got some Flowers in the Attic type shit going on here).

Yes, the teen romance aspect of the film was almost unforgivably cheesy but How I Live Now is clearly courting a younger female audience (not old Gore Hounds like myself).  Personal preference aside, this love-in-the-time-of-war story has a long history in cinema, from Starship Troopers to The Diary of Anne Frank. Indeed there’s something compelling about a feeling so strong that it counters the horrors of war; it also creates a striking juxtaposition of emotions.  The moments of teenage happiness are disturbingly tempered against images of labor camps, airplane crashes, gangs of rapists, and piles of decaying bodies.

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Just as How I Live Now isn’t a Horror movie in the strictest sense, the film’s conclusion barely qualifies as happy. Hopeful, sure, but hardly upbeat. All in all, How I Live Now is a really good film, but Horror aficionados will likely be divided by its focus on the romance.  It’s also worth noting that, despite their proximity to a nuclear blast, the film completely omits anything related to radiation sickness, which makes it feel unrealistic and overly sanitized.

3 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE

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Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Produced by John Battsek,
Alasdair Flind,
Andrew Ruhemann,
Charles Steel
Written by Jeremy Brock,
Tony Grisoni,
Penelope Skinner
Based on How I Live Now
by Meg Rosoff
Starring Saoirse Ronan,
Tom Holland,
Anna Chancellor
Music by Jon Hopkins
Cinematography Franz Lustig
Editing by Jinx Godfrey
Studio Cowboy Films
Film4
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

One response to “Review: ‘How I Live Now’

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