Snarky New York teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) does not want to be in the English countryside, where she has been sent by preoccupied parents to spend the summer with her weird cousins-by-marriage. Then, a nuclear bomb explodes in London, turning the sky dark instantly and eerily creepy with ashes that fall like snow.
This is how How I Live Now starts: England is soon locked down to a state of frightening martial law, and Daisy must escort her motormouth mini-cousin Piper (Harley Bird) back to the farm they were evacuated from. Daisy wants to return to brawny arms of the cousin Edmond (George Mackay) she’s fallen harder for than the bomb itself, and the landscape is treacherous with men and guns. Over the course of the trek, Daisy will grow alarmingly prepared to do what’s necessary.
With almost no adults in the production, the cast do a fine job, especially Ronan. Director Kevin Macdonald makes consistently interesting choices throughout, mostly by keeping the action like the bomb in the distance and the violence sudden and ugly. Very un-Hunger Games.
As a dystopian teen movie, Macdonald’s adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s young adult novel is refreshingly free of digital apocalyptics and unnervingly prone to random violence. It takes place in a country that’s bleak, grey and menacing, and it is far more interested in survival than heroics. Stick that in your quiver, Katniss.