Looking like a cross between Taylor Momsen and Ashlee Simpson, Saoirse Ronan plays the role of Daisy/Elizabeth to angst-ridden perfection. Based on the award-winning novel by Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now is yet another dystopic portrait of life in the future--the setting of which always seems to be England. Adapted by Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland), Penelope Skinner and Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), How I Live Now unfolds amid a vague, tense political backdrop. As Daisy arrives at the airport in England, she sees a news report about a bombing in Paris, but doesn't hear the content of the report because of her headphones. The symbolism of Daisy's headphones is, indeed, an early example of how very much inside of her head she is.
The motive for Daisy's retreat to a house in the countryside to live with cousins she barely knows stems from her father's neglect (isn't that what it always stems from?). So, too, does her anorexia, an affliction that also causes her to replay all manner of self-hating thoughts over and over again in her head. Her surly attitude toward her cousins, Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird) and Edmond (George MacKay), is immediately evident--though she shows a slighter amount of mercy toward Edmond.
The children's mother, who Daisy knows as Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor), is seldom seen by any of them, as she's holed up in her office to work and react to the impending war. However, Daisy's brief interaction with Aunt Penn reveals that her deceased mother, Julia, once stayed in the very same room that Daisy is sleeping in. The mention of her mother brings a certain fragility to Daisy's air, who blames herself for her mother's death (Julia died during Daisy's birth), and it only makes her all the more nostalgic for a home that no longer exists; her father's marriage to another woman and her pregnancy with his child only serves to accentuate the lack in Daisy's life.
In spite of her armor of vitriol, Edmond is able to penetrate through the surface (figuratively and literally). His seeming powers of telepathy are what help him to better understand the cause of Daisy's imperviousness. The fact that she refers to herself as a "fucking curse" is merely a small indication of her self-esteem issues. And just when Edmond is able to make some progress with her, a gaggle of soldiers infiltrate their home to put them in special "work camps." Luckily, the two make a promise to return to the house no matter how difficult the odds.
Kevin Macdonald, who also worked with Jeremy Brock on The Last King of Scotland, directs the film in such a manner as to evoke the very sense of panic that Daisy and those in her world are experiencing. The jarring nature of the directing is, in many ways, similar to Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 dystopian narrative (also set in, where else, the UK), Children of Men. Except, unlike Children of Men, love is ultimately what saves Daisy, as opposed to leading her away on a rowboat with a baby.