HOW I LIVE NOW tells the story of Daisy, a troubled teen sent by her father to live with relatives in England, presumably so he can get rid of her and focus on his new family. From the beginning, we learn that Daisy’s angry and afraid of the world, and is deeply self critical. Her first days with her cousins at their remote homestead are less than cordial as she distances herself. However, the peaceful life at their home starts to draw her out, particularly her budding romantic feelings for her cousin Edmund. Her aunt, a diplomat, has to leave the country for Geneva, leaving the kids alone in their fun.
As the summer begins to turn into an idyllic experience for her, conflict in Europe, heavily foreshadowed, comes home in a big way as war breaks out across Europe, including the UK. Idyll turns to horror as Daisy and her cousins must now fight to survive a living hell and try to stay together.
This is a good movie, in my view. At first, despite the menacing foreshadowing that all is not well in the world, the story begins as a straight-up troubled-teen-meets-charming-cousins-and-finds-herself tale, but even that part is terrific, so good you’re sorry (as you should be, as that’s how the characters feel) to see it end so abruptly. The homestead and the cousins and aunt who inhabit it are incredibly quirky and charming, but not in that overplayed Hollywood way. The actors, the story and the setting (put together masterfully by the same director as THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) take what might be a tired trope and make it into something fresh that grabs you. Similarly, Daisy comes across as what she is–a troubled teen–without being cloying and annoying.
When the poop hits the fan, the story kicks into high gear as Daisy not only finds herself, but finds out what she’s made of and if she’s tough enough to survive. With such a charming setup, the expectation is yeah, it’s going to be rough, but not that rough. That part of you that’s still looking at this as some kind of YA film is expecting TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, filled with challenges but nothing realistically horrific. The director holds nothing back, though; the war is brutal and has a profound impact on Daisy. She ends up seeing much of the war secondhand, making her direct contacts with it more startling and powerful. Everything unfolds in a realistic, authentic way, making for some tense viewing.
My only complaint was the war is being fought by governments and “terrorists.” I’m okay with terrorists being the bad guys, but the cause of the war is never touched on, the characters have access to information but the viewer is told very little about what’s going on, and the terrorists seem unrealistically powerful–they’re basically overrunning England with its formidable military. While the conflict and its causes aren’t essential to the story, I simply would have enjoyed the story more if it and the combatants were more than just a generic plot device.
In short, if you like an apocalyptic movie that tells an interesting story, check it out.