Callers to utilities companies will have experienced the auto-answer slow shuffle, during which you select various options to define your enquiry before being told you are in a queue and will be answered in the next four to six months. They are inevitability prefaced by the message ‘your call will be recorded for quality assurance purposes’ which is another way of saying, ‘we’ll record you if you are the slightest bit upset and then edit the tape so that you demonstrate material harm to our call operative. We will then litigate against you and take your home, your self-respect and front teeth. Thank you for calling.’ It is not difficult to imagine Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) the American teenage heroine of the dystopian drama, HOW I LIVE NOW ringing up the emergency services after the bomb has been dropped over London. Here’s what the call might have been like.
‘Hello, and welcome to the civil emergency hotline. If you’re calling us because you’ve seen a huge flash on the horizon, please press one on your keypad. Thank you. Now we want to find out a little bit about you. If you have been sent to England by your father because you are annoying little brat troubled by a lot of random audio clips passing through your cerebellum, please press two now. That’s right, yes, you are annoying. If you have been driven to a country house by your fourteen year old ‘cousin’ (in inverted commas), don’t press anything but give us a moment whilst we roll our eyes. We don’t believe it either.
‘OK. If you greet your cousins by asking to see your room and not engage in pleasant discourse, ask yourself, ‘should I have been in London for that nuclear strike? I could have died shopping.’ You are indeed terribly lucky. If you see that the house is full of children and there is plenty of washing up, press two if you offered to help, or four if you couldn’t be bothered. You selected four. You really are a very selfish teenager.
‘OK. One of your cousins resembles that Scottish actor George MacKay, who can currently be seen in UK cinemas in SUNSHINE ON LEITH and FOR THOSE IN PERIL. If you think he has a good agent, we agree with you.
‘Please listen to the following scenario. Your cousins go to a lake from a swim. You reluctantly join them hash-tagging boredom to your Twitter followers. Do you expect to fall in or do you really expect you can sit there nonchalantly, especially when that Mr MacKay is around? That’s right, you got wet and the sexual connotation was not lost on the audience in spite of the listless cinematography.
‘Now recall the following scene. You’ve wandered downstairs in the night and see the children’s mother (Anna Chancellor) in her office. Do you: (a) berate her for allowing her children to live in such squalor; (b) refuse to believe she would look at confidential files on her home computer; (c) wonder why she would look at bar charts for casualty numbers, surely a scatter graph would have been more representative; (d) look forward to Spam – the meat product, not unwanted emails; or (e) ask her about your mother. Of course you picked the soppy option. You never knew your mum. She died in child birth. And we call America a developed country. Obama care, eh? Oh yes, they don’t want it.
‘OK. You’ve seen the flash and receive a visit from the American consulate. Do you think: (a) wow, there’s nuclear fall-out in the city and someone took the time to find me and offer me a passport to safety’ or (b) ‘I don’t care, let me get radiation sickness as long as I’m close to that George MacKay. He gets all the parts, it’s not like there is anyone else.’ Give me a moment to roll my eyes.
‘OK. Now, you left home with your three cousins and find yourself in a barn. Do you have a roll in the hay? You do. How was it? Sorry it is 15-rated intercourse, he only got to see your back in quick cuts, the music intensified, it’s all very –
‘Sorry for going on a bit. You receive a barn-storming call from the military. They split the boys from the girls. Press one if you tried to break free of a soldier’s grasp to stay with your lad. What do you mean, why did they split the girls from the boys? It’s our public education system, of course. Silly girl!
‘OK. You go with your girl cousin to live with a nice family. You have Spam for dinner. Do you wonder why Britain in World War Three resembles Britain in World War Two? So do I, dear, so do I.
‘You have to go and pick root produce. Are you dreaming of the boy? All backs look the same close up. You don’t believe me?
‘So you and the girl cousin make a break for it. Do you really think you can drink the water? The enemy has poisoned it. What do you mean it is inconsistent behaviour? The screenplay is credited to three writers – surely they can conjure up one piece of logic between them.
‘Press seven if you have seen LORE. That’s right, it is a better movie. Do you also think there will be scenes of men mistreating women and you are unable to help? If you are affected by the content of the movie, that’s surprising because other movies are more horrific and convincing.
‘OK. So you are pursued by some bad men and you use a gun to shoot one of them. Well, you’re American. This isn’t such a big deal. Your grand-pappy is probably an NRA member. Why didn’t you go to live with your grandparents? Not for me to say, I didn’t write the script.
‘You discover a military base. There are piles of bodies. One of your cousins is amongst them. But not your man! You don’t tell his sister – surely this is cruel, a ticking clock, and immoral to boot.
‘Your cousin kept a falcon. Isn’t that it in the air? This can only mean one thing. Yes, the film is contrived.
‘Before you know it, the war is over. Press two if you want to know why. I’m sorry. We cannot connect you, emotionally or otherwise. Please try again when someone other than director Kevin MacDonald acquires the remake rights.
Reviewed at Cineworld Fulham Road, London, Sunday 22 September 2013 at 11:00am