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Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Baby Kevin being held by his father (John C. Reilly)
while his mother looks on in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

3.5 Stars

We Need to Talk About Kevin is probably the best horror movie in years. It's the antithesis of a Saw or Paranormal Activity film in that it's based in the real world rather than one full of ghosts or, you know, murderous puppets. It depicts a parent's worst nightmare: That his or her child will be evil. Now evil children are nothing new in horror movies either, but rarely are they depicted in a realistic fashion, and that's what makes Lynne Ramsay's film truly scary. It seems conceivable that other Kevin Khatchadourians are out there, making me feel all the worse for the Evas out there.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) is Kevin's (Ezra Miller, as a teenager) mother, and she spends most of her days drowning in wine and trying to stay away from people. In the years before Kevin, she loved life and was an avid traveler. On one fateful day in Europe, however, she met Franklin (John C. Reilly) and got pregnant. Growing up, she and her son hate each other. His hatred is seemingly born into him because Eva is a relatively attentive and patient mother (excepting one big mistake she makes). Her hatred starts as just frustration, but incident after incident shows her he has no hope. And when Kevin turns 15, his rage boils over into tragedy as he takes his bow and arrow to school with him for some live target practice.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a grim motion picture—about as grim as any I've seen this year. The subject matter is grim, the characters are grim, the scenery is mostly grim. But it's also quite riveting thanks to Ramsay's stellar direction. Her camera manages to find some incredible, very evocative shots. She regularly punctuates the film with the color red—an obvious metaphor, yes, but one that totally works in the context of the film. And she tells the story in a non-chronological way, something I wouldn't call necessary (like it was in something like Martha Marcy May Marlene), but it keeps you guessing and interested all the way through.

Tilda Swinton is undeniably one of our most reliable actresses, and here, she lives up to the high bar she's set for herself. Eva is a empty soul in the scenes following Kevin's crimes, but she's no less lost before them. The film, in many ways, is about lost hopes and dreams and the sobering reality of the responsibilities that accompany parenthood, no matter the circumstances. Eva knows she's culpable in Kevin's crimes, no matter how much she was repulsed by them, no matter how much they may have hurt her. That's why she visits him in prison, despite not having anything to say. Swinton conveys these complex emotions brilliantly. It's one of the best performances of the year, male or female.

Ezra Miller plays the older Kevin (Rock Duer plays him at his youngest, while Jasper Newell is Kevin around the age of seven), and he's actually kind of charming, but in a really creepy, scary way. He only finds happiness in hurting his mother, whether it be making a mess in the house, pooping his pants, or poisoning his sister and setting her up to take the blame. Miller sells Kevin's monstrous nature without going too over the top.

I thought the film became a bit repetitive about halfway through, but it starts building steam again until its rousing (and depressing) conclusion. My only other quibble was that I didn't get why Eva didn't take Kevin to a child psychologist. (Seriously, why not?) But excepting that, it's a tremendous film. It certainly isn't something most parents will want to view, but it ought to serve as a good kick in the ass to some negligent mothers and fathers out there. For everyone else, it's simply a powerful and challenging, but ultimately very rewarding, study of the worst in all of us.

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