Susan Granger’s review of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Oscilloscope)
Lynne Ramsay’s bleak psychological thriller revolves around the relationship between a guilt-riddled mother and her troubled son. Based on Lionel Shriver’s best-selling novel of the same name, it explores nature vs. nurture with a different twist.
From the beginning, travel writer Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) suspects that something’s wrong with her son Kevin. Screaming incessantly, he didn’t react like most babies, or toddlers, or other young children. His behavior was always alienating and aggressive. In contrast, her naïve husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) is heavily into denial, even when devious Kevin vandalizes the house and causes his younger sister Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) to lose the sight of one eye. So by the time psychopathic Kevin (Ezra Miller) reaches 15, he’s become the archery-expert poster boy for wicked malevolence.
Told in a foreboding, non-linear fashion, the present-day, post-massacre sequences are consecutive, while the cross-cutting flashbacks seem more random, distinguished primarily by the length of Eva’s hair. Scottish writer/director Lynne Ramsey has been acclaimed for her desolate, visually stylized, European-art house sensibility, as demonstrated in “Ratcatcher” and “Morvern Callar,” as she makes repeated use of the color red, not only in the opening tomato-throwing festival sequence in Spain but also in the paint that neighborhood vandals throw on Eva’s house and the soup cans Eva hides behind in the grocery store. In addition, Ramsay makes the most of her suburban location-shoot in Connecticut.
Obviously inspired by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, it adds little but a new growth to the problematic “Bad Seed” premise, suggesting that neither the parents nor society is to blame when a child is – quite simply – born evil. Along with the ironic fact that no one ever seems ready to discuss Kevin’s problems, there’s also no mention of whether Kevin was ever diagnosed as ADHD and given medication.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a ponderously sinister, savage 6. It’s difficult to endure and primarily notable for Tilda Swinton’s agonized performance.