A boy’s best friend is his mother – We Need to Talk About Kevin review

We Need to Talk About Kevin  – Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller and John C. Reilly. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a nightmare movie; disjointed, dizzying, and disturbing at a primal level. Tilda Swinton stars as Eva, a reluctant mother cursed with the positively satanic spawn of the film’s title (Ezra Miller). Kevin perpetrates some horrendously depraved acts in the picture’s finale, but director Lynne Ramsay chooses not to depict them (Lionel Shriver’s source novel is supposedly far more graphic). Instead of shedding blood on screen, Ramsay saturates the colour palette to nausea-inducing effect. Violence is replaced with unsettling close-ups of deep red tomatoes, runny strawberry jam and moist lychees; they’re littered throughout proceedings and inspire dread in a way fruit rarely should. Characterisations of the evil-from-birth Kevin and Eva’s blind-to-it-all husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) are all relayed  through Eva’s unreliable, grief-stricken prism. This is misery seen through a grotesque fun-house mirror. This is Rosemary’s Baby taken to its logical conclusion. Don’t mistake the picture’s art-house pedigree. This is horror.

When we first meet Eva, she’s holed up in a small dilapidated hovel quietly enduring graffiti attacks from mysterious assailants. Wherever she goes, Eva feels the eyes of the locals burning into her. She scores a filing job at a travel agency, and the little victory inspires the first smile in what we assume to be a very long time. It’s short lived; she’s caught grinning by another woman who promptly slaps it off of her. As Eva tries – and fails – to put her life back together, we flashback to the events that prompted her undoing. Her accidental pregnancy almost twenty years earlier; her marriage to the kindly Franklin; her struggle to relate to her son (the fittingly dead-eyed Jasper Newell). Where Franklin and their young daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) is now, why the sixteen-year-old Kevin is in jail, and the reason Eva tells Christian door-knockers she’s going straight to hell we don’t discover until the climax. But it’s not hard to guess. Ramsay’s delirious narrative spiral keeps us circling the drain; around and around we go, deeper and deeper, with a complete understanding of the destination that awaits. She keeps us spinning until the last possible moment.

Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear have adapted Shriver’s novel for the screen. Once upon a time, the author expressed concern over whether the film would be able to capture Eva as an ‘unreliable narrator’. She can rest assured Ramsay and Kinnear have done just that. Though Kevin (both as a child and as a teen) can sometimes seem outrageously wicked and methodical, it makes sense that a mother shirking her responsibilities would recall him as such. Eva resents motherhood and wishes for the life she once had, even when he was just a festering genetic concoction that grew inside of her. As a baby, he won’t stop crying, so she goes to construction sites for relative peace and quiet. As a toddler, he looks at her with nothing but disdain. As a teenager, he keeps masturbating dementedly even when she accidentally walks in on him. Isn’t it easy to say you hated your child because he was pure evil? Then again, Kevin does revel in nihilistically evil actions. Was Eva always damned to birth the next great madman?  I’m not sure the film is so much an examination of the nature vs. nurture debate as it is a devastatingly chilling genre pic about a Damien-esque little devil. Either way, it might be the best prophylactic ad in the history of cinema.

Swinton – an actress for whom hyperbolic praise cannot effectively compliment – is so good here. She gives Eva infinite shades, which is essential considering the one-dimensional view of Kevin and Franklin (intentionally) offered here. Even Miller, who is asked to take his character over-the-top and into the realm of Patrick Bateman-territory, gets a final scene reprieve that forces us to question just how crazy he is. Despite Ezra playing the eponymous character, this is undeniably Tilda’s movie. Ramsay – taking cues from David Lynch, Dario Argento, Gaspar Noe and injecting it with her own signature flair – creates a horrifying, beautiful canvass for Swinton to deliver some of her best work.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

We Need to Talk About Kevin arrives in Australian cinemas November 17.

2 Responses to “A boy’s best friend is his mother – We Need to Talk About Kevin review”

  1. As you say, the book is much more graphic. The film only gives a brief insight into it, through the purchase of the locks (trying really hard here not to leave a spoiler) – whereas the book goes into detail about how Kevin meticulously planned each and every move he made.
    Another deviation is in Eva’s conversations with Kevin – in the film she is often too dumbstruck to say a word, but in the book you are given these fantastic interchanges. A must read!

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    […] a horrifying, beautiful canvass for Swinton to deliver some of her best work. November 14, 2011 Full Review | […]

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