In adapting Lionel Shriver’s thriller, director Lynne Ramsay seemingly had her work cut out for her with We Need To Talk About Kevin. Originally written in the first person – in the form of a series of letters – the interior thoughts of a mother trying to understand why her son turns out to be a sociopath would seem difficult to bring to the big screen with any degree of cinematic impetus. But, much like she did with the sorely underrated Morvern Callar, Ramsay has delivered an intriguing and often disturbing film that downplays the thriller elements of Shriver’s novel and heads towards tropes more readily associated with the horror genre.
Tilda Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, a plain and shy suburban woman who has obviously earned the enmity of the people around her. It soon transpires that her son Kevin was involved in terrible and tragic events that shook her hometown to its core. We flashback to the birth of her son and see a troubled – and possibly evil – child determined to do anything to undermine his mother. With her ineffectual husband (John C Reilly) unconvinced by her insistence that Kevin is anything but a normal child, Eva deals with cruel pranks and evil plans. But as Kevin moves into becoming an adult, he has more shocking tricks up his sleeve. Eva now spends her life thinking about the terrible things that have been done by the fruit of her loins. Will she ever be able to escape the crimes of her son?
Swinton’s performance has been justifiably lauded (though seemingly been forgotten about in awards) as she plays the weary Eva with a sense of tangible despair. She drifts between the sympathetic and the self-pitying as her weary battle against her – seemingly demonic – offspring wages itself across the screen. But she’s matched by Ezra Miller who plays the teenage Kevin, managing to put across a cool evil without resorting to pantomime. Indeed, it’s his measured performance that gives the film such a disturbing edge. In not giving any inkling as to Kevin’s motivations we’re left with a stark idea of evil happening for evil’s sake and the lack of a moral centre gives the film and uneasy and nihilistic feel.
The feel is also emphasised by Ramsay’s sometimes impressionistic visuals. Whilst some devices – such as the constant use of red in the film’s colour palette – seem somewhat overstated they add a dreamlike/nightmarish quality to the film. The odd hint of the surreal also allows us to question the validity of Eva’s version of events: is Kevin as wantonly evil as the film shows or is there something about Eva’s parenting skills that have led him on his destructive path? There are also echoes of David Lynch throughout the film as it peels back the respectable veneer of American middle class society.
A disturbing yet often compelling film, We Need To Talk About Kevin is wonderfully performed and sharply directed. Whilst the ever present nihilism of the film may be too much for those of a more sensitive disposition, those who stay the course will find it an excellent slice of modern cinema.
There are no extras to speak of but the Blu-ray itself shows off the brilliant contrast between the bold and drab throughout the film
We Need To Talk About Kevin is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Artificial Eye