We Need to Talk About Kevin | Film review
Lynne Ramsay’s portrait of a grieving mother turns into a glib bad-seed drama.
One way to approach the prospect of absolute, incomprehensible horror is through abstraction. Like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, Lynne Ramsay’s first feature in nine years (adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel) refracts the subject of a school shooting through sinuous camerawork, a layered soundtrack and a fragmented chronology. It follows Eva (Tilda Swinton), a mother grappling with the fallout of her son’s violence, which she clearly views as an extension of herself and her parenting. The film’s opening scenes are a tense rush of non sequiturs. In one startling moment, a passerby punches Eva in the mouth.
By themselves, Eva’s phobias and regrets would be potent enough to carry the film. The problem is with the overwrought depiction of Kevin himself, a bad seed who, even as a toddler, refuses to play ball with Mommy or help her decorate his room. Are real killers evil geniuses who blind their siblings with lye and sabotage their parents’ marriage? The point may be that Eva only sees him that way in retrospect; she’s not a reliable narrator, and key pieces of the puzzle are missing. (O’Reilly, who plays the pivotal role of the father, is almost always shown as the good parent.) But subjectivity doesn’t make the presentation any less glib; when you’re dealing with material that has such tragic real-world resonances, giving it the veneer of an arty Omen sequel is offensive.