(Magnolia Pictures)
“You’ll shoot your eye out!”
(Magnolia Pictures)

The appealing music video style of director Kevin Macdonald worked in The Last King of Scotland and does so again in his latest film, How I Live Now.  Employing mostly handheld shots, joined together with precision editing, every once in a while a starkly beautiful image will shine through, feeling both out of place and the anchor of that particular sequence.  Such an approach complements the arrival of angsty American teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) at her cousins’ home in the English countryside, her odd rapid-fire internal dialogue of rules to encourage self-preservation, and the steps taken by her relatives to free her of these restraints.  It likewise feels right once an ambiguous war breaks out, granting the youths’ survival measures an added sense of immediacy.

 (Magnolia Pictures)
Kissing cousins (with benefits).
(Magnolia Pictures)

Remaining firmly with these protagonists, cut off from normal lines of communication, pieces of information are learned at the characters’ pace in a realistic manner.  Macdonald likewise keeps the terrorists’ specific identity vague, a choice that turns nearly anyone into a potential threat.  Traversing borderline terrifying landscapes, the film stumbles somewhat through Daisy’s soapy romance with her cousin Eddie (George MacKay), the annoying prattle of little cousin Piper (Harley Bird), and Daisy’s response to one particularly grim finding that seems at odds with her experience up to that point.  Otherwise, it’s a smart, visually engaging story that, largely for the better, refuses to go outside its purposefully limited perspective.

Grade: B

Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality.

How I Live Now lasted a mere week at The Carolina, but is currently on VOD and will likely hit other streaming platforms soon.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSaxm68PPT4‎]

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