Start them young, that’s what I always say. I think my taste in films and books (and, perhaps, my chosen career) was decided at an early age. I have vivid memories of watching Dr Who, Blake’s 7, and Space: 1999 and so on as a kid, then graduating to horror and developing an unhealthy addiction to post-apocalyptic books and films during my teenage years (thanks, in no small part, to growing up during the tail end of the Cold War). So I felt it was my duty as a father to sit down with my wife and two youngest daughters to watch a family friendly dystopian movie recently. And I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
I approached HOW I LIVE NOW (2013, based on the 2004 novel by Meg Rossoff) with some trepidation, fearing I was in for 101 minutes of Twilight-like pretty kids moping around, but I needn’t have worried. As usual, here’s a brief synopsis and a trailer. Click the link below for my thoughts on the movie.
Set in the near-future UK, Daisy, an American teenager, is sent to stay with relatives in the English countryside. Initially withdrawn and alienated, she begins to warm up to her charming surroundings and strikes up a romance with the handsome Edmund. But on the fringes of their idyllic summer days are tense news reports of an escalating conflict in Europe. As the UK falls into a violent, chaotic military state, Daisy finds herself hiding and fighting to survive.
I very much enjoyed HILN, considerably more than I thought I would. It’s no THREADS, but then again, what is? (Click here to remind yourself about that masterpiece, then go watch it if you haven’t already – it was recently re-released on DVD). One thing the movie does share with the BBC’s Cold War classic is the use of standard drama tropes to develop its cast and establish its world, then having all hell break loose and watching the survivors deal with the aftermath. Threads, unforgettably, was like a soap opera to begin with (albeit a soap opera which was regularly interrupted by government ‘Protect and Survive’ information films). HILN begins like a typical teenage romance movie… streetwise US teenager Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is sent to spend the summer with her UK cousins on their farm. But, like Threads, the movie drip feeds clues as to a deteriorating political situation by means of TV bulletins and overheard conversations.
And like Threads, once war breaks out, HILN changes gear.
The outbreak of hostilities is very well conveyed, and is done with disarming subtlety: one minute the kids are enjoying a picnic, the next we see birds changing direction en masse. The sun disappears, followed by an unnaturally strong wind, and soon ash begins falling. Director Kevin MacDonald uses very little to show so much.
From there on in, HILN becomes increasingly grim as the children are separated and have to fight to get back to the farm and to each other. And as usual, that’s where I’ll leave this review/recommendation, because I don’t want to ruin the rest of the movie for you.
Suffice to say, HOW I LIVE NOW is well worth your time. The cast are great and the production values high. It’s a film aimed at the younger market, but I found it very satisfying – surprisingly gritty and bleak. Whilst many other teenage market genre films feel, to me, overly sanitized and safe, this movie didn’t. It doesn’t hold back in its depiction of the brutal horrors of life in a militarised UK, but it doesn’t shove your face in it either. Give it a watch, and let me know what you thought. It’s available on DVD and Bluray (US/UK), and the original novel can be picked up here.