How I Live Now
dir Kevin Macdonald
scr Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, Penelope Skinner
prd John Battsek, Alasdair Flind, Andrew Ruhemann, Charles Steel
with Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Harley Bird, Danny McEvoy, Anna Chancellor, Stella Gonet, Des McAleer, Corey Johnson, Mark Stanley, Paul Ronan, Darren Morfitt
release UK 4.Oct.13, US 8.Nov.13
13/UK Film4 1h41
How I Live Now
Into the woods: Ronan and Bird

mackay holland chancellor
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
How I Live Now Essentially a teen drama, this remarkably bleak film throws its characters into genuinely harrowing situations. Thankfully, it has an exceptionally skilled filmmaker at the helm, plus three of the finest young actors working at the moment. So it's a strongly involving odyssey.

As violence is breaking out around Europe, 16-year-old Daisy (Ronan) arrives in Britain to spend the summer at the farm belonging to her Aunt Penn (Chancellor) and three cousins: the quietly efficient Eddie (MacKay) is Daisy's age, the adventurous Isaac (Holland) is 14, and needy youngster Piper (Bird) tags along everywhere. Then while Penn is away on business, Britain descends into martial law, and the children are split up by the military. With a promise to meet back at the farm, Daisy and Piper make a plan to break free.

Director Macdonald puts us into Daisy's head from the start, as her swirling, confused thoughts, visions and nightmares reveal a deep-seated paranoia about pretty much everything. We never know why she sees the world this way, but Ronan beautifully conveys Daisy's fragility, which is tested to the limit by the events that follow. And as Daisy is pushed far beyond her comfort zone, we travel with her every step of the way.

On-screen, Ronan spends most of the time with young Bird, who realistically plays Piper as a pushy, whiny little girl struggling to accept the situation while using her cutesy voice to get what she wants. Since we're in Ronan's shoes, we don't like her much, but also feel protective. In more limited roles, the excellent MacKay and Holland provide layers of insight that helps us understand why Daisy adopts them as her family. And why she falls for Eddie, which is a bit squirm-inducing since they're first-cousins.

The story unfolds in an inventive style that draws us into both the warm messiness of Penn's farm and distant events that have a major impact even in this isolated place. The pivotal bomb blast is artfully portrayed as something both beautiful and terrifying, while the constant threat of violence adds both urgency and emotion, taking the story into some very dark places. This is a sensitive, introspective look at finding the willpower to seek hope in a hopeless situation.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 26.Aug.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall