Director Kevin McDonald, known for "Last King of Scotland," creates this dystopia in film. He based it on the one drawn in the novel by Meg Rosoff. Kudoses to them for creating a world of fear and ugliness and angst with just a soupcon of hope and love. The main character is Elizabeth; she oddly prefers to be called Daisy, although she's hardly that sunny. Her hair is yellow, dyed, but her clothes are black and torn, and she's a germaphobe. So what does her unseen father do but ship her off to her mother's sister, a British peacenik, who's rarely home. Home is a mess. Daisy can barely get through introductions without wanting to scrub her hands like a surgeon.
She meets her cousins: Isaac, Eddie, Joe and Piper. They are convivial, welcoming, messy (the boys) and clingy (Piper, who's delighted with another female in the troop). She hangs back, not wanting to play their games or swim their rivers. She is drawn, however, to Edmund, the oldest cousin. He whispers to cows to moooove on when they frighten Daisy, and he shows her the hawk with the broken wing he healed. Awwww.
And then, blam! a bomb. Martial law supplants civil law. Soldiers in far greater numbers than she saw at the airport on arrival. And the girl with the attitude has to become the girl that saves the boys, that defies the authorities, that has to make the attitude work beyond posing in order to survive. Daisy grows from the idyll to the dystopia to the wandering in the wilderness, trying to get home to how she lives now, among dead birds and dead boys.
Unfortunately, the three parts of the film do not hang tight. The characters are not drawn finely enough to build emotional ties among them or to the audience.
Saoirse Ronan does her best with an American accent to effect the part of Daisy as she shifts from callow youth to leader of the pack. Tom Holland, so wonderful in "The Impossible," is pretty good as Isaac, and Harley Bird is an effective Piper, pesky little sister. George MacKay doesn't have much to do as Edmund except be strong and silent and seductive. He's a man, so he manages all three.
"How I Live Now" might appeal to Goth youth who hold no optimism for the future, but it holds no appeal to anyone who likes films that are coherent, evocative and well-layered.
"How I Live Now" opened on November 8, 2013, but is no longer playing at local theaters.