DISCLAIMER: I haven't read the book. Don't hate on me.
Given the film's potentially high-concept logline, the plot itself is almost disappointingly simple. 16-year-old New Yorker Elizabeth (who, if you don't mind, prefers to be known as Daisy - played by the talented Saoirse Ronan) is sent to stay with her cousins for a summer in the English countryside after her father remarries. These cousins are ragtag hooligans in Daisy's initial opinion, but once she finally settles in the world is turned upside down following a nuclear explosion in London. Daisy and her youngest cousin Piper (Harley Bird) are separated from Piper's brothers (George MacKay and Tom Holland) and must find their way back to them whilst trying to survive in what is now a dangerous, military overrun territory.
The film is typically teenage - Ronan plays the supercilious stereotype until she warms to her well-meaning cousins, hitting all the expected plot points of young love, complete with a catchy soundtrack. The cinematography is genre-appropriate with a beautiful, vibrant colour palette. However there are some oddities that separate How I Live Now from its predecessors, not many of which are advantageous. I was curious about the film once I realised it had been rated MA15+, unusual given the demographic of viewers - which I assume to be 13-17-year-old females. The protagonists are on the younger side in the novel and have subsequently been bumped up a few years to justify the language and violence that go far and beyond the level of intensity in, say, The Hunger Games. Shocking moments - a young character's violent death, a teenager shooting two people, frightening dream sequences and more dead bodies and f*** you's than we asked for - burst forth between long lulls, more uncomfortable than rational.
The countryside setting gives off a 28-Days-Later-esque vibe, intensifying the obvious imbalance of both pace and content. The second half rockets at twice the speed of the first, and the character relationships (last time I checked, cousins kissing each other is otherwise known as incest??) make Katniss and Peeta look mature.
Overall the biggest downfall is, as usual, character development. Daisy is given just enough traits for Ronan to make her vaguely interesting, but not enough for us to really invest in her. With a film title such as How I Live Now, one would expect to see the Before, but the story starts too late and never gives us any flashbacks to Daisy's life in America, dulling our impression of her character growth. We're left distracted by minor details like wishing the gem Tom Holland had more screen time or how Ronan unfortunately doesn't get to perform in her native Irish accent. In the end, How I Live Now leaves you wanting, but you're not exactly sure what for.
VERDICT: Teenage fans of 28 Days Later, Tomorrow When The War Began or The Hunger Games franchise will want to catch this one on the big screen, however the lack of thrilling action sequences merits a miss until DVD for the rest of us. See Catching Fire instead, especially if you're a young viewer.