NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
/ DVD . Artificial Eye.
have, perhaps unfairly, tended to lump Lynne Ramsey in with the
British miserablist cinema tradition, alongside the likes of Ken
Loach, Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows and recent recruit Andrea Arnold.
But this brutally nihilistic film shows a much more cinematic
talent at work, and one who is not afraid to produce works that
are genuinely confrontational. It perhaps helps that this film
is set in America – the alien location taking the director
out of the familiar and resulting in a film that, in much the
same way that John Landi sis with An American Werewolf
in London, has the feel of an outsider looking in. With
its alienated, demonised lead character, this sense of cultural
detachment is entirely to the benefit of this unsettling horror
film. And yes, while the director might well not agree, that’s
exactly what this is.
The nature of We Need to Talk About Kevin means
that any plot synopsis beyond a cursory one runs the risk of major
spoilers, and that’s despite the fact that the story is
told in non-linear fashion, with the audience immediately aware
of where the story will go; but the nuances, the subtleties and
the slowly, deliberately paced unravelling of events still sees
secrets revealed. Suffice to say that the film follows Eva (Tilda
Swinton), who has become a pariah in her community as a result
of her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) doing something truly awful. We
know the teenager has killed – but who, how and why remain
mysteries to be unveiled (or not, as the case may be). With the
help of conveniently different hairstyles, we jump between Eva
paying penance for the sins of her son, and the story of his life
– resented by his mother for curtailing her lifestyle, Kevin
grows up as a bitter, angry and increasingly anti-social child
– something his well-meaning but ultimately enabling father
(John C. Reilly) blocks out entirely, instead trying to bond with
the boy who plays along but clearly feels as much contempt for
his father as he does his mother. The title of the film (and the
novel it's based on) becomes a lost opportunity - because no-one
does talk about, or to, Kevin.
tells this unfolding tragedy with a combination of strikingly
composed visuals and sedate pacing that allows Swinton to domiante
the film with her guilt-ridden, insular, oft-silent character
– while Miller is genuinely unsettling as the sociopathic
teenager (credit too should go to the child actors who play him
in younger incarnations and are unnervingly detached and manipulative).
This is a film that does a lot of questions. The fine line that
separates victim and victimiser, the question of whether monsters
are born or made, the socially taboo subject of mothers who don’t
love their children and the blame and shame culture are all brought
up here – but don’t expect any real answers, because
of course, there are no answers.
I did initially feel that the social backlash against Swinton’s
character was unconvincing, especially as she suffers as much
loss as anyone in the final act – until I began to remember
the way the media and the public all too often demonise the partners,
parents and associates of murderers. Guilt by association remains
an all-too-real social shame and here, that sense of guilt is
shared by the woman who feels responsible for creating a monster.
I suspect this is a more accurate reflection of reality than many
of us would feel comfortable acknowledging.
Raw, painful and sometimes quite difficult to watch, We
Need to Talk About Kevin is not exactly enjoyable viewing,
and if you are the parent of a stroppy teenager, it might be a
film you choose to avoid. But it’s essential, brilliant
and terrifying viewing, at least once - and will linger in your
mind for days afterwards. Whether or not it’s something
you will want in there is another question entirely…
IT NOW (UK) BLU-RAY