MRR Review: "How I Live Now"

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An American girl sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives finds herself fighting for her survival as the UK turns into a violent military state.
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MRR Review: "How I Live Now"

Rating: R (Violence, disturbing images, language, some sexuality)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: October 4, 2013
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller

"How I Live Now" is a revolutionary 2013 thriller that tells the tale of a wayward American teen who is sent to live in the English countryside. The film is based on a young adult novel by author Meg Rosoff. Although the novel came out in 2004, it still has a cult following that will doubtlessly make this film as popular as the book, if not more so. Like the novel, the film takes place in a slightly futuristic London that was recently overtaken by a violent, totalitarian police state. The dystopian storyline centers on a romance between two teenagers who are forced to take to the wilderness to survive.

Saoirse Ronan portrays Daisy, a brightly clad and rebellious American teenager who has become too much for the adults in her life to handle. Daisy is packed up and shipped off to the quiet, rolling hills of the English countryside. She barely has time to enjoy the scenery before a harsh government takeover begins, throwing her world into even more turmoil and chaos. "How I Live Now" pulls no punches in describing the dystopian aftermath of a government force gone rogue. The film is violent and at times brutal in its depiction of the takeover and Daisy's struggle to survive. Daisy is initially apathetic to her stepcousins in London, and she is resistant to adapt to farm life. When she meets an older distant relative named Edmond, she begins to take things a little more seriously.

Daisy begins to fall for her stepcousin in spite of the taboo nature of the relationship. He seems to return her interest at least in part, but the world comes to a crashing halt before anything can come of it. Daisy has previously ignored the rumors of international conflict and tensions within the government, in spite of the fact that her aunt works for the government. In fact, Daisy is one of the last people to realize just how dire the situation is, largely because she is constantly engaged in an internal war with herself. As the film progresses, Daisy struggles with her own low self-esteem, her growing attraction to Edmond, and her quest to survive in the midst of chaos.

Although "How I Live Now" is not quite a post-apocalyptic thriller, Daisy's world is leveled all the same. From destroyed cars to desperate survivors, the film quickly shifts from an idyllic look at life in the English countryside to a chaotic storm of violence and tyranny. As the government attempts to regain some semblance of control over the British people, those who manage to escape to the wilderness are forced to find a way to survive in an incredibly hostile environment. The cinematography is second to none when it comes to depicting such a brutal aftermath. The rest of the film is fast-paced and full of tense moments that will have viewers on the edge of their seats.

While Daisy is hard to warm up to at first due to her hard-edged attitude and general apathy, she quickly becomes a leading lady audience members will find themselves rooting for as she seeks to ensure her family's survival. The relationship between Edmond and Daisy is surprisingly sweet, but it is full of conflict as they struggle to make sense of their feelings while managing far greater problems. Daisy wants nothing more than to return home and get back to normal, now that normal is something to be desired and not rebelled against. Unfortunately, the family farm is invaded, separating her from her family and diminishing her hopes of getting back to some semblance of daily life.

From start to finish, "How I Live Now" is a gritty and visceral look into one possible future and how it affects a small family. The writing is superb, and the actors deliver their lines flawlessly. Ronan steals the show as Daisy, turning a snobby American teen into a self-assured and headstrong hero who proves that she can care about more than the latest fashion and what happens to be on her music player at the moment. While the film is based on a novel for young adults, adult viewers will find more than enough substance and meaning to enjoy this film. The plot is fast-paced and gripping, leading from one intense scene to the next. By the end, viewers' only complaint will be how long it takes for the director to come out with the inevitable sequel. The film's ending holds a shocking twist and leaves plenty up in the air to be answered in the eagerly awaited second film.

Rating: 3 out of 5