We Need To Talk About Kevin can be seen as The Omen for the 21st Century or a very effective ad for contraception. Either way, the film is disturbing, haunting, unsettling and utterly unforgettable.
Scottish director Lynne Ramsey has adapted the 2003 novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver about a very dysfunctional family. Kevin (Ezra Miller) is the anti-social, detached and disturbed son of Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly), an upper-middle class couple living in American suburbia. A younger sibling, daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), comes along a little later. But all is not well in paradise. Kevin has turned out to be a bit of a handful. In fact, he is a veritable monster. From the time he is an infant Kevin is rebellious, cruel, self-centred, manipulative and, possibly just plain evil.
Father Franklin seems happily oblivious to his son’s bad attitude and it falls to Eva to deal with him on a daily basis. Swinton’s Eva is at times sympathetic and other times seemingly cold and uncaring as she grapples with raising Kevin who, at one point, pushes her so far she breaks the youngster’s arm.
The story is told through a series of flashbacks seen through the eyes of Eva. From the very beginning there is a feeling of foreboding, that something terrible is about to, or has already happened. Swinton’s performance is incredible. She coveys the complex emotions of a struggling parent without resorting to overacting or artifice. Kevin is portrayed as a toddler, an 8-year-old and a teenager. Newcomer Ezra Miller is the teenage Kevin and he has a transfixing presence on camera.
Director Ramsey begins the film with a jaw-dropping opening sequence that involves some kind of tomato festival. It is visually stunning and sets the perfect tone for the film.
There are a few small quibbles. Ramsey overuses the visual metaphors and they eventually become a bit clichéd. There are a few holes in the plot. When Eva is being ostracized by her neighbours and co-workers, one wonders why she doesn’t just pick up and move away. But perhaps that is her way of punishing herself for what eventually happens.
In any case, We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of those films that will generate plenty of discussion. It will also stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema.