Burdened by an unfocused amalgam of disparate genre conventions, How I Live Now follows angsty and anxious introvert Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) as her father’s recent disownment lands her smack in the middle of the British countryside. Forced to shacked up with distant relatives, Daisy slowly but surely inches toward a cathartic transformation set against the backdrop of love, loss and increasingly violent civil unrest. As corresponding mounting tensions build to a breaking point, a wide-reaching cataclysm forces this now inseparable group apart, prompting Daisy to persevere through treacherous adversity if she’s to once again pursue her recently acquired new lifestyle.
Initially benchmarked by an ethically questionable, moreover hastily implemented romance, the film’s strong adherence to this reeks of the typically cloying sentimentality associated with its YA source novel origins. Existing as Daisy’s sole impetus for naively trudging through a hundred-plus-mile stretch of likely irradiated wasteland, it’s this ill-conceived first love and group bond that fail to match How I Live Now‘s ever-present tonal grimness.
Rarely ceasing to pour on the misery, the film isn’t quite incompetent in its storytelling abilities, however it all plays like a series of bullet points derived from various pre- and post-apocalyptic inspirations. While The Road most easily comes to mind, it’s also fairly simple to illustrate a world that’s devolved so horrifically into a dystopian militarist state, thus forcing How I Live Now to bank on a sense of sheer emotionality that never quite grabbed me to begin with. As such, the film’s latter two-thirds score more points for our inclination to sympathize with the general populace’s plight over Daisy’s.
Carrying with it a documentary-style sense of terror that trumps its more character-driven intentions, How I Live Now is a barely affecting drama and one that’s curiously weighed down by the key relationship(s) marketed as its main draw. As Macdonald’s technical competence and Ronan’s unfailing magnetism do their best to overcome the central character’s self-deprecating naivety, the film as a whole fails to embellish upon what could’ve been much more than stock genre-infused coming-of-age tropes.