Thanks to 'The Hunger Games', seeing children on our movie screens fighting for their lives while in distressing and horrific situations has become perfectly acceptable entertainment. And thanks to 'The Mortal Instruments' series, so has incest - sort of (stay with me). If you've read the 'The Mortal Instruments' you know how that one turns out - I won't spoil it for you - but as for 'How I Live Now', we've got straight-up kissing cousins. Sure, there's a momentary ick-factor, but that's quickly overshadowed by two things: genuine love and affection and, well, a World War. Don't you just hate it when that happens?
New York native Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is sent to the English countryside to stay with her three cousins Eddie (George MacKay), Issac (Tom Holland) and Piper (Harley Bird) for the summer. Daisy is an alternative, neurotic and obsessive-compulsive hiding under a mountain of black and red tartan clothing, heavy eye makeup and hair bleached to within an inch of its life. These characteristics tend to leave her alienated from others, but eventually the charm of her surroundings and effervescent relatives wears her down... along with a new romance with Eddie. On the fringes of their idyllic summer is an escalating European conflict which results in the outbreak of World War III. When the boys and the girls are separated from each other by the military, they vow to each find their way back home at any cost. We then follow Daisy and Piper on their journey from their new home on a farm across forests and country, dodging enemy soldiers, renegade natives and their own hopelessness and fear.
Employing no bells and whistles to depict an early war-torn country but simply the idea, the film relies solely on the strong performances of its very talented young cast, with Ronan shepherding them through the grind. The film is raw and embraces the beautiful and rich natural settings with an impetus on light and dark to help narrate and set the tone. Director Kevin Macdonald ('The Last King of Scotland') has put together something quite unique and oddly compelling, despite the film's flaws like an unexplained and unused case of telepathy, and despite the use of time-jump devices, WW3 still seems to only last about six weeks. Committing to a story about love and not survival, there is a loss of tension and edge, but there is something here - I'm just not sure what it is, but it's something.