Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), real name Elizabeth until she insisted on being called something else, has been packed off to the United Kingdom by her widower father where she is to stay with her cousins from her deceased mother's side of the family out in their isolated farmhouse. She is most displeased about this situation, and as a petulant seventeen-year-old the last thing she wanted was to leave behind her life in the States since she hardly knows this side of the family, and when she is met at the airport she makes no bones about being as rude to her fourteen-year-old cousin Isaac (Tom Holland) as possible. But she had better get used to living here, because a dramatic change is on the cards...
Hints as to what that would be appear on television screens and seem to be connected to Daisy's aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor, who is hardly in this) who has some important position in the international community, but for the first half hour you could be forgiven for not latching onto that upcoming turmoil as it played out as a drama. This was yet another attempt by star Ronan to make a hit out of starring in an adaptation of a "young adult" novel after the likes of City of Ember and The Host, and again it didn't really catch on with the public. How I Live Now was a book by Meg Rosoff which contained various requisite elements such as a science fiction premise or a budding romance, but was brought to the screen by director Kevin Macdonald as a war movie.
More a displacement of refugees in war movie really, for one we had established Daisy is stuck in this farmhouse with her three cousins - Eddie the eldest (George Mackay), Isaac in the middle and ginger-haired moppet Piper (Harley Byrd) - and dark rumblings are occurring in the outside world the stage was set for upheaval. In the meantime, she begins to grow out of her brattiness and falls for Eddie, who lest we forget is her cousin, which could be a reason this didn't take off with audiences as it was all very well guiding us through the war business, but taking our hand and showing us two close relatives gettin' it on was none too palatable. Yes, there was even a sex scene for us to mutter, think of the children! It was a curious aspect which could have been rescued by mention of adoption, or making Eddie a step-cousin.
Anything but what we ended up with, though it did generate a theme about sticking with the family, all very well but that might have been taking it too far for many. Anyway, half an hour in and the kids are out toasting some post-swimming marshmallows in a nearby field one summer afternoon and there's a strong wind which blows up, followed by a snowfall of ashes which should give you all the indication you needed that there was a catastrophe occurring somewhere else. Before the power goes out, we learn from the television that London has been hit by a nuclear weapon and the government has announced a state of emergency, though beyond that specifics are kept deliberately vague, so there seems to be some kind of invasion going on, but then again it could be a civil war sparked by terrorists, or a mixture of the two.
What matters most is Daisy's point of view as she channels her obstinate, willful personality into a survival technique. At first, the youngsters are prepared to live in the farmhouse alone in a fantasy of self-sufficiency, unbothered by the conflict aside from viewing the odd plume of smoke on the horizon and not worrying about what they'll do when their food runs out, but soon a band of soldiers arrives and splits them up, the boys going to an Army camp and the girls to stay with a surrogate in a village some miles away. After a tearful promise to return to the farmhouse the sense of Daisy going from pillar to post orchestrated by forces out of her control becomes the main influence and for a film which concerns itself with the effects of a major disaster the actual plot comes across as strangely slight. It could be because we had been here too many times before, but even when Daisy and Piper were escaping cross country and encountering occasional dangers the stakes didn't feel as high as they should if you were aware they could take care of themselves. Music by Jon Hopkins.