That’s the premise for director Lynne Ramsay’s grim and unsettling We Need To Talk About Kevin, as we follow Eva (Tilda Swinton) while she tries to rebuild her life after her son Kevin kills several classmates at his high school with a bow and arrow.
A former high-profile writer and traveler, Eva now works at a two-bit travel agency, consumes large amounts of wine and pills to dull the pain, and lives in a tiny, beat-down home that, as the film opens, has been splattered with red paint by vandals. As Eva struggles with her daily existence, we’re shown flashbacks of how she went from carefree newlywed to bearing and raising Kevin – a cold, emotionless, hurtful child played at different ages by Rock Duer (toddler), Jasper Newell (child), and Ezra Miller (teen).
Each scenario in We Need To Talk About Kevin is more unsettling and disturbing than the previous one. Ramsey and co-writer/husband Rory Kinnear make each interaction between Eva and Kevin uncomfortable, pitiful, or downright heartbreaking, and any occasional glimmer of hope for these two to form a true mother-son bond is quickly dashed by the next scene.
The performances in Kevin are top caliber. Swinton is in virtually every scene, yet barely speaks (her total dialogue is 30 minutes, tops); her expressions and body language are what speak for Eva, and in volumes. The always reliable John C. Reilly plays Eva’s pushover, all-is-well husband Franklin, who’s more of a buddy to Kevin than a father and oblivious to how Kevin treats Eva. Ezra Miller is creepily effective as teen Kevin, combining adolescent attitude with a dead-behind-the-eyes stare that gets under your skin and stays there. And while the plot of the film is pinned on Kevin’s high school rampage, it’s his years as a gradeschooler that are the most terrifying. Jasper Newell delivers a scarily realistic performance as a child who’s become a cruel, sadistic sociopath by the age of eight.
Ramsey’s use of red permeates the film, seen in everything from food and clothing to the flooding lights of emergency vehicles at the scene of Kevin’s massacre. And while Eva’s ongoing struggle to clean the blood-red paint off her porch may seem a bit too symbolic, it almost becomes its own subplot. We want to see if, both literally and metaphorically, Eva can ever cleanse herself from what happened with Kevin – or if she’ll be permanently stained, forever marked as the mom who’s kid killed his classmates.
Kevin does have its debits. Occasionally, Miller’s portrayal of the evil Kevin teeters on caricature. Some “tell-tale signs” of Kevin's penchant for violence – a fascination with weapons, killing the family pet – could be seen as a bit cliché. And the ending may have some viewers wanting more of an explanation or closure.
With We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsey creates one of the most gripping, unnerving horror/thrillers in recent history. It’s extremely powerful, yet very difficult to watch. That goes double if you’re a parent.
Is it suitable for your kids?We Need To Talk About Kevin is rated R for “disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality, and language.” There are several scenes of the aftermath of Kevin’s attack at his high school, with bloody bodies carried out on stretchers. Several people, including a young child, are shown dead by Kevin’s arrows. A few sexual situations are shown in shadows or silhouette, except for one fully lit scene where Eva catches Kevin in a compromising position in the bathroom. In terms of alcohol and drugs, Eva consumes a lot of wine and pills. Ironically, teenagers about Kevin's age and older would be the appropriate audience.
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?It’s a safe bet that We Need To Talk About Kevin will be a tough film for any mother to watch, especially one with young or teenage children. You might want to watch it yourself, then decide if she’d be up for it.
We Need To Talk About Kevin
* Director: Lynne Ramsey
* Screenwriters: Lynne Ramsey, Rory Kinnear
* Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell
* MPAA Rating: R
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