out of Five
Running time: 101
Watchable teen survival drama enlivened by a strong central performance from Saoirse Ronan and a handful of chilling visuals, but the central romance falls flat and the third act feels anti-climactic.
What's it all about?
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, The Way I Live Now is based on the novel by Meg Rosoff and stars Saoirse Ronan as angsty American teen Daisy, who comes to Britain to spend the summer in a country farmhouse belonging to her Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) with her three cousins: strapping 16 year old handyman Eddie (George MacKay), enthusiastic Isaac (Tom Holland) and whiny youngster Piper (Harley Bird). With political unrest occurring throughout the globe, Aunt Penn is called away to Oslo for the peace process, leaving Daisy and Eddie to look after the two children.
However, when World War III breaks out, Britain descends into martial law and soldiers soon descend on the farm, splitting up the children and hauling them off to forced labour camps. Promising the boys that they will meet back at the farm, Daisy and Piper escape from captivity and have to use every ounce of survival instinct they have as they journey back home.
Saoirse Ronan seems to have something of a taste for sci-fi/fantasy, what with this, The Host, Byzantium and Hanna featuring on her CV in short succession. Needless to say, she's on her usual excellent form here as paranoid, super-sensitive (and gothed-up) Daisy, and there's strong support from Bird and Holland, while Chancellor is good enough for you to miss her when she disappears.
Macdonald does an excellent job of conveying the gradual impact of global events on the family's remote location – from background television reports everyone ignores to hushed phonecalls involving Aunt Penn, and eerily, distant sounds of a nuclear explosion, followed by a snowfall of white dust hours later. He also creates a depressingly bleak atmosphere throughout and he has an
excellent eye for chilling imagery, such as when Daisy and Piper encounter a pile of bodies at one of the labour camps.
The main problem with the film is that the third act feels rather flat and anti-climactic; after the girls escape, you expect high tension and drama but the reality increasingly feels like two girls bickering
in a forest, interspersed with the occasional encounter – either way, what happens feels rather dull given the expectations raised by the set-up. On top of that, the film is further hampered by a lack of
chemistry between McKay and Ronan, although the fact that they're supposed to be first cousins makes that romance rather icky in the first place.
How I Live Now is never less than watchable, thanks to atmospheric direction and a strong performance from Saoirse Ronan, but it's neither as exciting nor as emotionally engaging as it should have been.