June 24, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Tilda Swinton ("Eva Khatchadourian"), John C. Reilly ("Franklin"), Ezra Miller ("Kevin", Teenager), and Jasper Newell ("Kevin", 6-8 Years). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Oscilloscope)
Running time: 01:52:26
Country: UK, USA

Truth be told, I can't think of a single Tilda Swinton movie off the top of my head that I've seen besides this one. Looking back on her filmography, I've definitely seen her in a few things, but her roles in those films aren't sticking out in my mind. Nonetheless, I've been well aware of the fact that she's one of the best actresses working today because of word-of-mouth and so forth. So for an actress of her caliber to star as the lead in what is essentially a horror movie piqued my interest when it made the rounds last year and got - no pun intended - talked about in various places. That being said and keeping in mind that I have never read the original novel that the film was based on, I didn't really know what to expect as I went into it, and to say that I was pleasantly surprised would be a colossal understatement.

As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN jumps back and forth through time, with Tilda Swinton's character, Eva, as the main focus. When we meet Eva in present day, she awakens from a nightmare in which she's basically being trampled at one of those gatherings where people throw ludicrous amounts of tomatoes at each other, and it's established that she's living alone in a decrepit house that sits in some random neighborhood - that and people apparently hate her for some reason. As her back story is gradually established, it's revealed that Eva was once happily married, had a family, and was a successful businesswoman, but certain circumstances that aren't initially made clear have obviously destroyed that.

Long story short, present-day Eva is struggling to exist while living with some sort of burden that she carries because of something from her past that has greatly affected her life. The film also follows the Eva of the past as she meets the man she'll eventually marry (played by John C. Reilly of all people), and how a one night stand with him turned into an unwanted pregnancy (and perhaps an unwanted relationship as well) that eventually spawned Kevin: the epitome of cinematic problem children. The film also documents the upbringing of Kevin and how Eva is seemignly uncomfortable with being a mother, building up to the events that changed her life forever.

The character of Kevin is both fascinating and strange in that he's almost a dissected example of the traditional "creepy kid". When it comes to killer kids in horror movies (although labeling Kevin or the film as such, respectively, wouldn't be doing either any favors), there's usually some sort of supernatural or deeply psychological explanation in regards to the motives of the children and why they suddenly turn on the adults in their lives. In the case of this film it's almost presented as if it's some sort of metaphor, but seeing as I've never read the source material and am writing this based on my observations from a single viewing, one can only assume. There's even a strange duality element to the relationship between Eva and Kevin, but this possibly ties in to the simple, inherent connection between mother and son rather than it being symbolic of anything.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, in a way, takes the almost otherworldly nightmare-child from horror movies and puts him in a realistic scenario, with the end result almost coming across as the prequel to a serial killer movie. The film also raises some interesting questions on top of everything else; it's unfortunately common for a parent to reject a child, but what happens when the child is seemingly designed to specifically reject the parent?

I won't get into the plot too much because the less said about it the better, and, as much as I'd like to, I'll also refrain from talking about the odd human being that is Kevin. I will say that whoever cast the film really hit the jackpot when it came to casting the three actors that played Kevin. In particular, Jasper Newell, who played the adolescent Kevin, is fucking amazing in this, and Ezra Miller is downright scary as the teenage incarnation of Kevin. Aside from being really good, the three actors who play Kevin all look like they could be the same person over different periods of time as well. Tilda is unsurprisingly solid from beginning to end, and John C. Reilly's presence isn't as distracting as I thought it would be, thanks mostly to how his character is written.

While I wouldn't label it as a horror movie per se, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is a horror movie at heart and it does a lot of things better than most traditional horror films. It's well-acted, well-directed, beautifully shot, and perfectly edited. There's a terrific soundtrack of old Country tunes to boot, which creates a rather odd but effective juxtaposition of visuals and sound, on top of a moody and wonderful score by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. The film does drag and become slightly tedious in spots, and there are a few things in the narrative that I have issues with (like why Eva would have a second child), but the first forty minutes are absolute perfection in my opinion. Highly recommended.

Score: 8


  1. Excellent review. It's hard to call it a horror movie but it's certainly horrifying. Interesting that you thought it was tedious in spots. I thought some of it was kind of slow but felt that it helped the movie feel all the more torturous. Tilda looks like suffering personified.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cody! Maybe "tedious" is a bit harsh of a word because the film was anything but a chore, but I kinda felt it was a tad overlong and while I really enjoyed Jasper Newell's performance, I wasn't a huge fan of his section of the film that focused on Kevin's adolescence. By that point I think the film had mostly said what it needed to say, and I just wanted the film to kinda start wrapping it up by that point.

  2. I've been dying to see this film forever, and I am glad to read that you enjoyed it as much as you did. I never read the book myself, so I have no real expectations, but I do know what Kevin does and am curious as to how it all unfolds throughout the film.

    On a side note, it's unfortunate that Reilly doesn't play more dramatic roles because he is a pretty fantastic dramatic actor. I always thought he was pretty great in Magnolia.

    1. I haven't watched MAGNOLIA all the way through but I've liked him ever since I first saw him in CASUALTIES OF WAR back in the day. I agree that he should do more dramatic roles, but it was kind of weird seeing him in this movie playing the supporting character to Tilda's lead after he's been in so many mainstream movies. Good for him though, and it's good to know he's willing to do movies like this. I have no problem with him doing more goofy roles in mainstream movies though - his comedic timing is perfect. Thanks for the feedback, Matt, and looking forward to your thoughts once you see it!

  3. Just caught this one last night. An outstanding film! Thanks for the recommend.