Show of hands for everyone who’s interested in watching a movie about a woman coming to grips with the fact that her teenage son killed a number of his high school classmates. Anyone?
Yeah, that’s kind of the challenge We Need to Talk About Kevin faces. It’s not the kind of movie that’s going to appeal to the dating crowd, teens, older couples and especially parents who can’t relate to the situation making for a very limited audience.
In the wake of the Ohio school shooting, the film’s wide release is sadly timely, but further raises the question of how necessary this movie is as it’s not thought-provoking enough to force you to face its challenging concept head on and it certainly isn’t a subject matter that most would initially consider for an entertaining trip to the movies.
This is the part where I’d to now go into all of the many reasons you should ignore your likely hesitation and give it a chance, but unless you can watch any movie regardless of the subject matter if the acting is solid, there’s little reason to invest your two hours in this depressing tale.
For acting aficionados, Tilda Swinton’s haunting performance as Eva, the guilt-riddled mother trying to figure out where she went wrong is stellar. She gives her all in the role and was wrongly snubbed for a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Director Lynne Ramsay, who also adapted Lionel Shriver’s novel with Rory Kinnear, is the main culprit. Ramsay’s chaotic storytelling is too jarring and invasive for a film that would be better told from a linear standpoint.
Instead, Ramsay opts to tell the story in bits, jumping from Eva’s present to the distant past and more recent past mixed with a soundtrack that is either grating or only fits the scene in an ironic sense that after it’s done more than twice ruins the effectiveness.
Even in diapers, Kevin is shown to be a bit off, scowling at his mother like some sort of psycho. Eva, like any good parent, wonders if there’s something wrong with him, but doctors can’t find any telltale signs. Eva has a much different experience as Kevin exhibits odd behavior such as needing diapers long after he can talk, vandalizing her study and giving every indication that he hates her. Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller, who play young and teen Kevin respectively, are great. They both hint at Kevin’s unhinged nature easily whether it’s glaring at Swinton or turning the act of making a sandwich into a maniacal exercise.
Eva finds little support from her husband, played with the right amount of skeptical disbelief by John C. Reilly. Save the climatic final 15 minutes, you’ll get the gist of the two-hour affair by the 30-minute mark: Kevin is nuts, Eva tried her best to deal with her demon seed offspring and Eva finds herself still paying for his actions as strangers give her cold stares and in some cases attack her.
Ramsay gets too caught up in the symbolism of Eva having the blood on her hand for Kevin’s actions both when encountering some of Kevin’s victims and more literally as she scrubs red paint that’s been splattered on her house and car.
The film becomes draining once it becomes evident that Eva, for all of Swinton’s expertise, is a victim just like all the other families Kevin’s actions impacted. She leads a life that she will never recover from that infamous day and the rest of her life is merely waiting for the end of it.
This makes for a long experience because you quickly sympathize with Eva all the while hoping for something more – something that will inspire her and give her a reason for living. But as the end credits roll, Eva remains as we met her – a victim with seemingly no hope of ever being more than just another victim of Kevin’s actions.