Kevin MacDonald has shown a lot of talent from the director’s chair. He directed one of the all-time great documentaries in Touching the Void, and he has shown himself to be a competent director of narrative films (his State of Play remake is quite good). While his last narrative film, The Eagle, is nothing special, it had its moments, and MacDonald has always seemed like he is one great film away from being the breakout director he deserves to be. Unfortunately, the film he just released, How I Live Now, is not that film. In fact, it’s probably better off if you skip this film entirely if you want to believe MacDonald is a great director. How I Live Now has promise, but it is all wasted away in some poor directorial decisions.
How I Live Now follows Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) as she is left to stay with her English cousins for a summer. When a nuclear bomb goes off in London, Daisy finds herself trying to help lead her cousins to a life of safety in a world growing more dangerous by the day. The Kevin MacDonald directed film is written by Jeremy Brock (a frequent MacDonald collaborator), Tony Grisoni (Red Riding Trilogy) and Penelope Skinner (making her screenwriting debut).
How I Live Now has a lot of potential to be a dark and twisted dystopian drama. The problem is that Kevin MacDonald directs it as if it is anything but. It felt like the only palette that MacDonald knew how to direct in was a light one, which feels weird when so many atrocities are occurring onscreen. Even worse is that there is a disturbing character development between Daisy and her eldest cousin, which is directed as if it’s just a natural occurrence. This could have been a great film if it explored this development more. Instead MacDonald acts as if audiences should just go along with it and not ask any questions.
The actors try their best in this film, but there is little they could do in the face of such weird directorial decisions. Saoirse Ronan comes across as the only one who isn’t a blank slate as Daisy. She pays the disgruntled teen so naturally early on while making her full transition throughout the film just as believable. George MacKay plays the eldest cousin, and it really seems like he was casted just on his looks. He just does nothing for the character, and this was a character that desperately needed an actor who could add some complexities in the face of a weak script. Tom Holland and Harley Bird play the only other two big roles in the other cousins. The former is largely forgettable while the latter has some nice chemistry with Saoirse Ronan, which helps the latter portions of the film work well enough to retain your interest.
How I Live Now has an interesting concept and a few good scenes. However, when considering this could have been Kevin MacDonald’s breakout film it has to be considered a massive disappointment.