Maybe it’s the '13' in 2013 but this year alone there have been at least nine end-of-the-world movies - and we still have three months to go. Unsurprising, then, that Oscar-winning One Day in September documentary maker (and The Last King of Scotland director) Kevin Macdonald decided the time was right to dip his toe into the doomsday sci-fi genre.
What makes this post-apocalyptic endeavour stand out isn’t special effects, direction or sci-fi genius but simple, good old fashioned love.
Set in the near-future, How I Live Now is based in England where American teen Daisy (Ronan) arrives to spend the summer with her eccentric, environmentally friendly aunt and cousins. As a hip, angry muso this wasn’t exactly her first choice of holiday destination. But the cheery clan soon turn her cynical frown upside down, and it helps that her eldest cousin, Edmond (MacKay), is a bit of a cutie. Daisy and Edmond seem blissfully unaware of the whole social no-no of the situation or future, complicated special dispensations - and who are we to add to their impending doom?
Their idyll is shattered by a vaguely explained World War III nuclear attack which renders their home uninhabitable. They are torn apart, again without much explanation. Scared and lonely, Daisy clings to two things: her promise to mind her younger cousin Piper (Peppa Pig’s voice, Harley Bird) and to reunite with her estranged new love, Edmond.
In comparison with recent doomsday hits World War Z or The Hunger Games, How I Live Now is a small scale, realistic film set primarily in the English (filmed in Wales) countryside. As per the genre, the protagonists are faced with all sorts of horrors, mostly at the hands of depraved, animalistic humans. One such attack gave actress Ronan a chance to work again with her real-life father Paul and to exact her on-screen revenge after he ran her over in The Clinic many moons ago (about two minutes into this Late Late Show interview).
Jon Hopkins has done a great job on the film's soundtrack, collaborating with Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan (incidentally, Ronan appears in her Garden Heart video). The key thing keeping the film together is the bond between Daisy and Edmond, the warmth between the characters and their hopes for the future. Whether the kudos lies with Meg Rosoff’s award-winning novel, the screenplay, direction or actors is difficult to say, but it is the film’s saving grace. That and the fact that, at 19, Oscar-nominated Ronan can not only choose her roles well and lead an entire cast but can also dominate the screen for the entire running time, ably supported by her reported new love.