“How I Live Now” is adapted from a popular young adult novel about a young woman struggling to survive a grim near-future environment, yet it’s probably too modestly scaled to benefit much from the mass anticipation for the Nov. 22 release of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” a film with a similar pedigree and related premise.
If Meg Rosoff’s 2004 British novel had attracted the attention of, say, Steven Spielberg, “How I Live Now” could have been inflated into a blockbuster, too. Much of the movie takes place during what may be a Third World War, so the potential for action-spectacle is there. Director Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”) stages very little violence, however, and depicts none of the deadly devastation suggested by our infrequent glimpses of television consoles (“Paris Bomb Explosions” is a news headline) and computer screens (a woman described as “an expert in loony extremists” studies a graph captioned “Projected Deaths Across Mainland Europe”). Unlike in a horror movie, dead bodies are something to mourn, not to ogle, and the mood is tense and melancholy — more World War II than science-fiction Armageddon (there’s talk of rationing).
Set in the near-future UK an American teenager, Daisy, is sent to stay with relatives in the English countryside. Initially withdrawn and alienated, she begins ...
Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality
Length: 101 minutes
Released: November 8, 2013 Limited
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor, George MacKay, Corey Johnson
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writer: Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni,, Meg Rosoff, Penelope Skinner, Jack Thorne
Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “Hanna”), now tall and willowy, stars as Elizabeth, who prefers to be called Daisy, a hip and rude New York teenager sent to stay with her step-cousins in rural England, probably on the theory that the countryside is safer than the city; nevertheless, Daisy resents her exile, and interprets it as a sign of rejection on the part of her father. (Her mother is dead.) The heavy but apparently routine military presence at the airport when Daisy lands is the tip-off that the viewer, too, has arrived at an unfamiliar destination: an anxious near future, when the threat of “terrorists” (a word used in the script) apparently has the entire Western World on orange alert.
Daisy’s cousins are a lively, ragtag and largely unsupervised bunch, especially spunky young ginger-haired Piper (the admirably named Harley Bird). Daisy, however, prefers Eddie (George MacKay), a strong, sensitive, silent type with some sort of psychic ability that Daisy, too, may share. The Nick Drake and Fairport Convention art-folk songs on the soundtrack complement the hippie-ish farmhouse environment.
When war begins, forced evacuation separates the boys and girls. Daisy and Piper become fugitives on the fraying edge of the disaster, scavenging among rolling hillsides and English greenswards that still appear bucolic. Viewers may recall the similar if more dangerous journeys depicted in such antecedents as “The Road” (2009), from the Cormac McCarthy novel, and “No Blade of Grass” (1970), another near-future odyssey across England’s green but no longer pleasant land. Perhaps because girls occupy its center, “How I Live Now” isn’t as aggressive as those predecessors, and ultimately offers hope instead of despair.
“How I Live Now” is playing exclusively at the Malco Paradiso.