Directed by Lynne Ramsay
From this opening sequence, you know you’re in for something quite different, and anything conventional about Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is tempered by scenes that grab you by the throat and forces you to watch, knowing full well that nothing good can come from any of it. For the most part, it takes a non-linear approach to the narrative as it bounces between Eva’s current life living alone after something horrible happened to her, then goes back in time to when Eva first met her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) leading up to them having their son Kevin.
Kevin cries constantly, driving Eva’s post-natal depression to new heights as it evolves into full-on hatred for this little boy whose only joy seems to derive from his desire to torture her. Needless to say, Kevin is a bad kid, rotten to the core, and he’s always angry, something that wouldn’t be nearly as frustrating to Eva if her son didn’t get along so well with her husband. The only time Kevin shows any sort of love or affection towards his mother is when she reads him “Robin Hood” and his affinity for archery adds to the sense of foreboding surrounding Kevin when the couple have a young daughter and like Eva, you can only expect the worst. Things get worse though as he starts playing his parents against one another and things become much clearer once it’s revealed what happened to put Eva in her current state.
Other movies have told stories based around young men who lash out at society, but Ramsay blends the reality of that sort of situation with the type of bad kid horror subgenre seen in films such as “The Bad Seed,” “The Omen” or “Orphan,” only basing it in reality rather than doing it as a sensationalist genre film. Due to the non-linear nature, some of the film’s biggest shocks are telegraphed and somewhat tempered, since we expect what Kevin did must be fairly horrifying compared to all that he does to Eva over the course of his 16 years.
The film features another breathtaking performance by Tilda Swinton, one that runs the gamut of emotions, as she’s put through all sorts of unthinkable things, not just by Kevin but by those she encounters after the pivotal incident. Her behavior in the present day scenes is so erratic, it’s hard to fully empathize with her, but her scenes with Ezra Miller, the talented young star of comedies like “City Island,” are absolutely riveting. Miller gives such a dark and disturbing performance as he turns off his proclivity for bringing humor to any situation to prove himself to be more than Swinton’s equal, especially in their later scenes. The younger actor who plays Kevin is also quite effective at bringing the right balance of grimace and smirk as he finds the perfect way of grating on his mother’s every nerve. John C. Reilly is decent but doesn’t bring nearly as much to the table as Kevin’s father, a role that could have been played by dozens of other actors.
The film is very dark and it gets darker still as Ramsay explores the idea of who’s to blame when your kid goes bad, but she takes a far more artistic approach, allowing for plenty of visual symbolism, but also offering a soundtrack filled with choices that gives the film a dark sense of humor. There are many ways to read certain scenes, which certainly bodes well for repeat viewings, but either you’ll readily accept Ramsay’s artistic expressionism or it’s something that will bother you. Either way, it’s doubtful you’ll forget the experience watching her film.
The Bottom Line:
We Need to Talk About Kevin will open in New York at the Angelika on January 13 and in Los Angeles at the Arclight on January 20.